Monday, 3 June 2013
Private Members' Business
In addressing this private members motion today, I have to agree that work-life balance is extremely important. However, I must say that too much emphasis on either and the other one suffers. Like most of the legislation which comes through this place from the government, there is always a sting in the tail. We are focusing on the health and welfare of workers, their families and our communities, but the silent victims are the owners of small businesses who, in my electorate in particular, are being driven to the wall financially and emotionally. Penalty rates are very much a contributor. It is no surprise for me to see that tourism provides 11.3 per cent of all jobs in Cairns, with retail accounting for 11.3 per cent and hospitality 10.9 per cent.
When talking about work-life balance, it is important to realise that that scenario is only an issue if you have a job. We are seeing many small businesses—particularly in hospitality—fold as a direct result of an imbalance created in this area. In my region, of the 23,900 businesses 1,303 were classified as medium- or large-sized companies meaning that, as of June last year, 22,597 businesses in my electorate were classified as small businesses.
In these small, family-owned businesses the smallest change in profitability margins can make a huge difference as a result of the slightest of downturns, new competitors or high staffing costs. I highlight the case of Krokodillos restaurant at Yorkeys Knob where I live, a place I visit on many occasions. It is a lovely spot with relaxed tropical dining, friendly service and great modern Aussie tucker put on by the owners Greg and Sarah Rochford. This small business is open five nights a week from Wednesday to Sunday and operates only between 5 pm and 9 pm. As you can see, those hours mean that they are constantly forced into a penalty rate situation.
Krokodillos has been operating now for seven years. Greg and Sarah now need to spend more time with their seven-year-old daughter, Madison and they have had it on the market for a long time. Greg and Sarah work every day and every night. They work it themselves to make a living. But the work-life balance is clearly not there and they cannot spend time with their daughter. I know that they would love to be able to take on more staff so that they have more quality family time, but they have limited opening hours and have to pay penalty rates to staff for every one of those. When people go out for a meal and a drink late at night, they expect people to be working and businesses to be able to offer their products at a price that they are prepared to pay. We need to create an environment where small businesses are able to provide those jobs—because, at the end of the day, they are the only ones that will.
The Fair Work Amendment Bill came up for debate recently, and penalty rates formed a key discussion point. I note the secretary of the trades and labour council said in a speech on 6 February, 'We are asking the government to enshrine penalty rates and weekend work legislation to protect it forever'. I have seen many businesses in my electorate close down and the heartbreak and financial and emotional stress that follows. Unfortunately, this motion demeans the Fair Work Commission and its role as the so-called independent umpire. The minister has indicated that the government would not countenance any reduction in penalty fees. Therefore, if the Fair Work Commission rules that way, as the minister has signalled, it will be perceived that the Fair Work Commission is being monstered by the minister. I am very sympathetic to the concerns of businesses but, at the end of the day, it is a matter for the Fair Work Commission to determine, and I hope that it will take into account the very real impact that they are having on small businesses.