New laws may force local businesses to close
LOCAL restaurateurs say new award wage rules are hurting their bottom line and could force some eateries to close on Sundays.
The Federal Government implemented penalty rate increases for hospitality workers on July 1 as part of a five-year award modernisation plan announced in 2008.
Sunday hourly rates increased by 8 per cent, while public holiday penalty rates jumped by 10 per cent.
Over the next five years the Sunday shift penalty rate will almost double and public holiday loading will increase from 100 per cent to 150 per cent.
Di Sassi, who owns Sassi Cantina with her husband, Tony, said the changes would batter on one of Port Douglas’ core industries.
“Given that we are seasonal and regional and we are a seven-day a week society, the rates on Saturday and Sunday are exorbitant,” she said.
Ms Sassi said the new rules would hurt operators in regional tourist towns harder than their urban counterparts.
“We already can’t compete with Asia - not that I think we should be paying Asian wages - but this just makes us less competitive if we have to push prices up a little bit to cover the impost,” she said.
Ms Sassi said the couple were looking at closing their restaurant doors on Sundays to avoid paying high wages.
She called on the Federal Government to re-think the changes.
“There always were some penalties which we were hoping would be revised into a
more moderate position, certainly not into an extreme one like this,” she said.
Zinc and Finz restaurants owner Marco Piat said he was still working with restaurant management on the best possible staffing model to meet the changes.
“To be honest it is going to increase our costs and it will put into question trading on Sundays and public holidays,” he said. But restaurants are not the only ones being hit hard by wage hikes.
Port Douglas Chamber of Commerce restaurants and retail spokesman Doug Calvert said retailers were struggling with similar problems.
Mr Calvert, who owns a number of Port Douglas retail outlets, said the Fair Work awards would push casual workers’ rates to $50 an hour on public holidays and $40 an hour on Sundays by 2014.
“But it doesn’t matter when you get there, it just matters when you’re going to have to close your doors,” he said.
“It’s just outrageous - I’m really angry over it and the impact is going to be significant. If you employ people like I do, and I’m just about to open a fourth shop, you’ve got to make a choice and my choice is to close the doors.”
Mr Calvert said small business owners had some recourse, however, if they could show that employees would be no worse off under individual workplace agreements as opposed to the award.
“My advice to business owners is to get some expert advice in this area because there are some things they can do,” he said.
An example, Mr Calvert said, was by showing that employees would lose out if businesses were forced to shut on certain days to avoid high wage costs.
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