Photo of Scott Taylor. Supplied
When it comes to public holidays, most people are pretty darned happy. A day off work, time to chill or whoop it up – what’s not to like? These days, if you ask a restaurateur what they think of public holidays, you’re more than likely to get a chilly response. That’s due to the fact that thanks to penalty rates on public holidays, they are paying through the nose for staff.
Take Australia Day, for example. .Jacki O’Hara from The Peasant Table in Mt Hawthorn recently went public on exorbitant penalty rates, revealing it would cost her $900 extra in staff wages to open that day, and that she would struggle to break even.
Meanwhile, restaurateur-about-town Scott Taylor says that there is no doubt that the biggest cost in hospitality is labour, and penalty rates play a major role.
“I know that in many well-run hospitality businesses, 38 per cent of revenue goes to labour costs, while in some businesses, it’s 50 per cent. So in other words, $5 every out of every $10 goes to labour,” says Scott.
“When a public holiday comes around, if a casual chef wants work, the existing industrial relations laws mean I’d have to pay $54.40 an hour for them – and my answer will be ‘sorry, you’re not working’. The young casual guys who want to work on public holidays can’t, because industrial relations laws have priced them out of the market.”
So what’s it all about then? Currently, there is a massive debate going on around the country regarding industrial relations and workplace laws, including penalty rates. Shortly, it will all go under the microscope in a review held by the Productivity Commission in a quest to reboot the entire industrial relations system. The Restaurant and Catering Association, which has tabled a submission for the review, is pushing for penalty rates to be standardised. But with some rates being as high as 275 per cent for casual workers on public holidays, it’s no wonder smaller business operators are struggling to open on these days.
“It’s putting lots of pressure on us. Weekend rates and public holiday rates are a bit out of control, to be honest,” says Justin Bell, owner of Jus Burgers and Pinchos.
“On those days, we staff up with our salary staff and our family on public holidays. You don’t make a lot on those days, but you have to provide a service to the community. Australia Day is a tricky day to be open because most people have already got a barbecue arranged or are watching the fireworks, but people still expect you to be open.
WA Premier Colin Barnett has recently stated that penalty rates should remain, but admitted they should be made more realistic in order to encourage employment in the hospitality industry. The Australian Hotels Association's Bradley Woods has said he would also fight outdated penalty rates.
“Really, penalties need to looked at, and it would be really good if Mr Barnett could come to the party,” says Justin.
“He said there needs to be an increment, but at this point that increment is out-of-control. Something needs to get done about it and pretty fast, because the penalty rates are really hurting our industry in WA. Not everybody’s on a FIFO wage.”