Wage feud: Border employers urged to reject Fair Work Commission ruling on Sunday penalty rates

Businesses on the Border will be asked to ignore the Fair Work Commission’s ruling to slash penalty rates and instead do what a workers’ group says is fair for both staff and the economy.

The North East Border Trades and Labour Council will hand-deliver letters to shops in both Albury and Wodonga, asking them to continue paying workers higher wages on Sundays, even after the changes come into force.

It will be the first step of a wider campaign to fight what NEBTLC secretary Chip Eling said were unfair cuts to the earnings of people like students and women – some who had no choice but to work on weekends when their partners were home to look after the children.

“They wouldn’t do this to firemen or nurses or police,” he said. “We’ve got a problem with the fact that it’s preying on the most vulnerable groups of workers – women are affected by this decision.

“They’re the ones employed in the hospitality and retail industries.”

WAGE FIGHT: North East Border Trades and Labour Council's Chip Eling.

WAGE FIGHT: North East Border Trades and Labour Council's Chip Eling.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has supported the cuts, saying he agreed with the view the reduction in Sunday rates would lead to more employment opportunities.

But Mr Eling said the theory was “laughable” and Border businesses had told the NEBTLC it would not change the number of workers that they employed on Sundays.

He warned cutting people’s earnings would have a negative impact on the wider economy.

“We should also see this as a reduction in the buying power of the customer,” he said.

“It’s going to have a downward effect on consumption because people will have less money to spend … To us, this is an indefensible decision.”

NEBTLC members will head out in Albury and Wodonga from 11am on March 14 to speak to businesses, explaining their arguments and offering to help publicise anyone who does maintain penalty rates.

“I can’t judge at the moment what sort of response we’ll get, but there’s been a good response in capital cities,” Mr Eling said.

“We’ll have more events in the future … We’ll be continuing to do this on certain Sundays and in more towns around the region.”

Indi MP Cathy McGowan has been the subject of a social media and television advertisement campaign from unions pressuring her to support the cause, but said she was “inclined to support the independent umpire”  – effectively backing the FWC’s decision.