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Online Pressures Threaten the Weekend

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Australia’s major banks are angling to have ordinary working hours extended across the weekend with a view to make rostering more flexible – and it’s e-commerce that is to blame once again.

ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, GE Capital and Westpac have submitted a joint application to an award review by Fair Work Australia. The application argues that proposed changes would promote “flexible and efficient modern work practices in a way that has proper regard to the considerations of productivity and employment costs”.

The proposal comes as a result of the banks seeking to alleviate the mounting pressures to respond to demand for real-time payments and round-the-clock service. However, the move has prompted concerns from the unions who say  the application is the first step down the path of cutting pay as well as the loss of the weekend entirely.

The National Secretary of the Finance Sector Union (FSU), Leon Carter said the application was the phase one of a two-step plan to abolish penalty rates for working on the weekend.

“In the second round they will go after the money,” Carter told The Australian Financial Review. “These people have no credibility when it comes to protecting, let alone advancing, people’s conditions.

“Our industry already has the highest level of unpaid overtime in the economy. We’re not going to stand by and watch hard-won conditions eroded just because the industry wants to increase its already enormous profits at the expense of ordinary workers.”

The financial institutions made the application through Ashurst Lawyers to change the Banking, Finance and Insurance Award 2010. They have all rejected the FSU’s claims that they are seeking to remove penalty rates, with a spokesperson for ANZ even saying that the bank was “happy to support the amendment as part of the broader joint application” but that it won’t change anything because the institution already has an existing agreement in place for weekend work.

While the banks currently deny they plan changes to weekend penalty rates, the Australian Retailers Association and the National Retailers Association are seeking to have them reduced by half. The retail award currently entitles workers to 100 percent loading on Sundays, which the retail groups say is preventing some stores from opening and competing with online retail.

A Productivity Commission report in December found that the retail sector has one of the highest relative labour costs in the world, a fact that the NRA and ARA have been quick to jump on.

After the disappointment of seeing the proposed changes to the GST threshold rejected by the Productivity Commission last year, it seems bricks-and-mortar retailers have reviewed their tactics. Now, instead of asking the consumer to pay more for the pleasure of shopping, they will be demanding their staff get paid less.

The question is: will dismantling the weekend direct the struggling sector towards long-term profitability?

If retailers chase this brand of logic to its ultimate conclusion, they will also end up keeping stores open all night in order to keep up with online competitors.

 

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