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Penalty Rate Cuts Put More Pressure On People Who Need The Most Help

There's nothing ennobling or romantic about struggling.

03/07/2017 9:46 AM AEST | Updated 03/07/2017 9:54 AM AEST
Eva Katalin Kondoros
"The privileging of some industries above others entrenches ideas about what type of work is and isn’t valuable."

Yesterday the government's penalty rate cuts came into effect.

When the government cuts penalty rates on weekends and public holidays, it's not just affecting people's income. This is, of course, a huge part of it. It means people will struggle to meet the rising expenses of food, transport, perma-renting -- because nobody on a retail wage is going to be casually buying a house in Sydney anytime soon.

It's putting an increased financial pressure on the people who arguably need the most respite, and if you think more people are going to be employed overall as a result of this, then you're either blind or being obtuse about how retail and hospitality work.

Myself and the vast majority of people I know have worked retail or hospitality jobs. Some of us since early high school, most of us while also studying at university full-time, and a few doing the classic trifecta of work/uni/internship.

The full spectrum of the retail and service industry is covered among us: fast food, independent grocer, big corporate retail chain, boutiques, department store, cafe, bars. Speaking to both managers and staff the consensus was the same: these penalty rates cuts are unlikely to have the effect intended.

The social belittling and devaluing of customer service roles is already so prevalent in people's mindsets, why underscore this with a financial blow?

Employee numbers are probably going to stay the same, and average hourly productivity and key performance indicators are going to have to be met to exactly the same standard, but now with a demotivated staff.

If weekends maintain their status as a time of peak trading (I've seen the shit show that's Pitt Street Mall on a weekend), you are essentially telling people you and your work, and your time, and the service you provide is something we do not see as valuable and we are going to pay you less for it -- but do it anyway.

If people boycott businesses during weekends and public holidays, hours will be extended to capture lost business and staff are still going to have to struggle to meet targets at a lower rate of pay. This is pretty hypocritical and stupid at best, and cruel at worst.

You cannot expect a service and take it for granted while simultaneously deriding it as somehow low-skilled, lesser, or menial. The stratification of types of employment and the privileging of some industries above others entrenches ideas about what type of work is and isn't valuable. This starts to have some particularly screwed-up consequences in our current advanced capitalist western society.

People are not their jobs, and the equation of a person's profession to their identity or worth as a human is reductive and hinders everyone's progression. The social belittling and devaluing of customer service roles is already so prevalent in people's mindsets, why underscore this with a financial blow? At the best of times you're dealing with an increasingly entitled public, at worst mistreatment, mismanagement, and denial of employee rights.

The argument that people should still be able to pay for rent and food if you budget, try harder, and work more is reductive and misplaced. You are not asking people to adjust to an external factor becoming more expensive (which they are), you are telling people to do the same work for less. You are telling them to be in a worse position and potentially not make savings or have any forward momentum when, really, they're usually already in a disadvantaged and less secure position.

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There's nothing ennobling or romantic about struggling. When people proudly declare they made it through difficult times without institutional assistance or help and therefore, so should everyone else, it's essentially saying "suffer, because I did."

If you don't want to try and give under-privileged people opportunities, then what is even the point of all this progress as a species? Is it just self-driving cars, exploiting people in new creative ways through the gig economy, and $400 fruit juice squeezers all the way down?

To turn around and say penalty rate cuts will help create more jobs also seems incredibly hypocritical from a government who supposedly wants people to get "good" high paying jobs -- which is it, do you want more people in what will be even lower-paid hourly-waged jobs or in these mythical abundant white collar professional roles which will help us all get houses in our twenties? It ends up perpetuating a cycle of privilege.

As a retail or hospitality worker, if you no longer have penalty rates you might have to work more hours. You might not be able to do the unpaid internship that someone whose parent is bankrolling them has no problem taking on. A tighter budget means you can't afford the cost of extra courses or tools that you need to develop your portfolio or professional skills. You can't make savings for your child to attend the ideal school for them. You can't spend more time or money on things beyond essential expenses and chores because you're exhausted emotionally, physically, and financially from working more hours in a job you've just been told is worthless and you're worthless because you work it.

Is it any wonder you'd want to indulge in a brunch or a morning coffee after all of that noise?

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