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Case study

Read the following newspaper article before attempting the Discussion activities which follow.

“Workplace revolution will change pay packets”

The Sun-Herald 16 March 2003

The disappearance of the traditional Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five working week has prompted NSW bosses to push for a cut in penalty rates. Employers want the definition of so-called ordinary hours – the hours worked by an employee without receiving a penalty payment – to be extended to include the hours between 6am and 10pm, seven days a week.

The state’s peak employer body, Employer’s First, also wants penalty rates for hours outside these times to be reduced. The bosses have applied to the Industrial Relations Commission to vary the NSW Clerical and Administrative Employees (State) Award, one of the largest industrial agreements in the state, to change the definition of ordinary hours of work.

But unions feared the move to cut penalty rates for clerks and call centre workers could lead to shift loadings being slashed for thousands of workers in other industries across the state. They said penalty rates must remain because they were put in place to compensate employees for working unsocial hours.

The push to cut penalties comes as research showed working patterns were becoming more diverse with as few as 7% of employees working all their weekday hours between 9am and 5pm. Latest figures showed about 24% of current enterprise agreements increased the range of hours during which employees could be rostered to work at ordinary rather than penalty rates. Recent research suggests that 67% of employers said penalty rates for weekend, night and overtime shifts were outdated in a 24-hour global economy.

About 20% of the workforce start work before 7am. Labour market deregulation and the rising numbers of enterprise agreements and individual workplace contracts were increasing the amount of non-standard hours Australians work.

For now, bosses want to reduce the penalty, for the clerk’s award, on Saturdays from time-and-a-half to time-and-a-quarter and on Sundays from time-and-three-quarters to time-and-a-half. The employers were also considering pressing for a decrease in late-night shift loadings from a maximum of 26% to a flat 15%. The Australian Services Union predict that if penalty rates were wound back, it would cost people on the average clerk’s wage close to $100 a week. Unions say the benchmark for an appropriate pay rise to compensate for the buyout of penalties should be between 25 and 30%.

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Discussion activities

Answers are not provided for these activities. You may wish to discuss your answers with another student or a teacher.

Look up the Clerks Private Sector Award 2010 (external website) and answer the questions below.

  1. Why would the unions fight this proposal?
  2. List the advantages of joining a union.
  3. Explain the possible ramifications of a cut in penalty rates without a corresponding increase in the ordinary pay rates.
  4. How could this situation affect your considerations when planning future work/career directions?

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