Queensland’s leading business lobby group claims three of the state’s key industries are suffering under the current penalty rate system, but unions say there is “no appetite” to change it and the government, for the most part, agreed.

The South Australian Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee Association signed off on a landmark deal with Business SA to slash weekend penalty rates, in exchange for a higher base rate of pay.

The agreement, which is voluntary, is being held up as a template by other employer groups.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland general manager of advocacy Nick Behrens said the state’s employers needed to see penalty rate reform.


“Retail, tourism, hospitality, they are the areas of the service economy which have the most frustration with the existing penalty rate framework,” he said.

“Our research demonstrates that employers are reducing their hours of operation, they do this in hospitality, they can’t do it so much in the area of retail, but what they are doing, is reducing the hours of employment offered.

“So that means that they are not earning the profits that they really would like to, but more importantly the employee is not getting the outcome they want and the actual outcome of that is that consumers are left with substandard customer service.”

But Mr Behrens said it was proving difficult to get the conversation started in Queensland.

“The interesting thing is that the unions went to ground,” he said of Tuesday’s South Australian announcement.

“There was no statement from the ACTU on it and we contacted the Queensland branch of the SDA to see if they would look favourably on a Queensland business using that template enterprise agreement in Queensland [but didn’t hear back].”

Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams said he shouldn’t expect to.

“I have canvassed a range of affiliated unions in Queensland and there is absolutely no appetite for any change to the current arrangements around penalty rates,” he said.

“They put food on the table and make a real difference for many hundreds of thousands of Queensland workers and should not be traded away.

“Whether you are a nurse, a firefighter a retail or hospitality worker, if you work nights or weekends, we believe you should get compensated for that and that’s what our community supports.

“The bottom line here is that the business lobby including [Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief] Kate Carnell want to take penalty rates away from workers in exchange for a big fat nothing.”

The new state government concurs.

“The Queensland Government has made its position on penalty rates clear,” Treasurer Curtis Pitt said in a statement.

“We think penalty rates should stay because they compensate workers for working on the weekend.

“We’re open to listening to stakeholders but our support lies fairly and squarely with workers being properly remunerated for working on weekends.”

A review into the nation’s penalty rates is underway through the Productivity Commission.

But Mr Behrens said the South Australian agreement had paved the way for an easier change.

“Our view is it is a national award, so irrespective of it being in South Australia, or anywhere else, it doesn’t make any difference,”  he said.

“If the Fair Work Commission signs off on this enterprise agreement, they will sign off on it in Queensland [if we get there].”