1 June 2021

“[A]ll of the government’s policy settings pre- and post-COVID have been directed towards cheapening labour: it opposes a significant minimum wage increase, and previously support[ed] reductions in penalty rates.” The trouble, say economics wonks Ray Markey and Martin O’Brien, is that the neoliberal dogma underpinning this policy is contradicted by the empirical evidence: “For the first time we have directly addressed the dearth of empirical evidence regarding the employment impact of penalty rates, with a customised longitudinal survey of 1828 employees and 236 owner-managers. Because penalty rate cuts were phased in over a number of years we analysed the sequential impact of different phases at three points: 2016-2017 (pre-cut), 2017-2018 (first cut) and post July 2018 (second cut). We measured employment levels and hours on Sundays and public holidays, as well as weekly employment and income patterns. We demonstrate conclusively that penalty rate reductions from 2017 did not impact positively on employment in Retail and Hospitality sectors. Results are uniform for all of our employee measures: the prevalence of Sunday employment, average Sunday hours worked for those employed on Sundays, and average weekly hours and wages. Similarly, for employers we were unable to establish any statistically significant improvements to the percentage of Sundays open nor the average hours open on Sundays in either Retail or Hospitality Award-reliant businesses compared to those using enterprise agreements. These results correlate with industry-level data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for this period regarding aggregate employment and average weekly hours.”