On the steps of the Fair Work Commission in Melbourne, moments after learning she was about to take a hefty pay cut after it was announced that Sunday and holiday rates would be slashed, Erin Gibbins fought to hold herself together.
"I'm really, really angry," she said, standing next to Ged Kearney of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
"It's not just a simple decision. It has so many tentacles and consequences that's going to cause this for not only myself but for everybody here and for the thousands of workers that are working now or at home."
The FWC handed down a long-awaited decision on Thursday that penalty rates for Sunday and public holiday work would be cut. Full- and part-time hospitality workers will have their Sunday rates reduced from 175 to 150 percent; for fast food workers, it will drop from 150 to 125 percent; in retail, it will drop from 200 to 150 percent for full- and part-time workers, from 200 to 175 percent for casuals. The decision was instantly slammed by union groups as an attack on the lowest-paid workers in society.
"Unless there is severe intervention, we are on the way to seeing a whole class of working poor in this country," Kearney said.
"Today we have had a decision from the Fair Work Commission to cut the pay of the lowest paid workers in this country from up to $6,000 a year... this is a bad day for workers in this country."
Kearney and Gibbins were facing an army of TV cameras and journalists after the commission's decision. Gibbins is a casual hospitality worker, and outlined how the decision would affect her life and her finances.
"It will mean that people will be forced to make up for that cut, whether it is through getting a second or third job, whether it's through becoming more dependent on their family and friends or turning to or becoming more dependent on welfare," she said.
"It will be either 'I have to get a second job', 'I have to get a third job or I lose the house', 'I become homeless, I lose the car, I can't take my kids to on a nice outing somewhere', 'I might cut down on food costs'. These are the consequences of these decisions that they've made."
Online, many were quick to criticise the decision and detail exactly how important penalty rates are to people on low incomes.
Penalty rates and a resourced welfare system meant I could move out of home to go to Uni, without which I wouldn't be where I am today.— bryce m roney (@bryceroney) February 23, 2017
Penalty rates got me through university. Literally how I paid rent and food.— Lucy Carter (@lucethoughts) February 23, 2017
@lucethoughts Me too, Easter Holiday loadings and Sunday double time at the Royal Agricultural Society made a big difference.— David Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeMLC) February 23, 2017
workers react to penalty rates cut in the lunch room pic.twitter.com/692Q9LfkEm— Rachel Eddie (@heyracheddie) February 23, 2017
Greens MP Adam Bandt has already said his party will push legislation in parliament to protect penalty rates. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews also criticised the decision.
Social media was flooded with people sharing their own stories about working for penalty rates.
When I was a teenager working after school & weekends to get by #penaltyrates were a lifesaver. Feel terrible that kids now will miss out— Cazz (@CazzReid) February 23, 2017
Working in retail we weren't given choice,had to work pub hols. Penalty rates were consolation for missed time with family-now cut. #auspol— Joanne Cleary (@politijo) February 23, 2017
I would've been screwed without penalty rates when I relied on hospo/retail work. https://t.co/tn1RpEhe2r— Benjamin Riley (@bencriley) February 23, 2017
@RichardTuffin Mine could lose up to 5k pa— paganine (@luckey7sss) February 23, 2017
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