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Cutting penalty rates is a war on the young and on the poor

The same government who started the week saying young people just need good jobs if they want to get ahead are ending it by ensuring young people are paid less.

So, you might recall that earlier this week the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar, had some super advice for today's young people concerned about the rising cost of housing and the inability to get ahead: go get a cool high-paying job, like he did!

"I want to see young people, like me, leave university," he misleadingly explained to Sky News on Monday night. "I was a terrible university student but I left university because the economy was so good, I got a great start and I was able to forge a career."

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Protests, anger and relief punctuate a tense announcement from the Fair Work Commission as business and unions react to the changes. Vision courtesy ABC News 24.

From that inspirational quote you might think that Sukkar had quit that fancy university with its ivory tower book-learnin' and instead used his own two hands to forge a company making bootstraps with which he then pulled himself up. 

What actually happened was that Sukkar got degrees in law and commerce and walked into sweet corporate jobs for large firms before entering politics where the public supplies his $200k+ salary and sweet perks - including a nice little allowance of $273 for every night he stays in a Canberra apartment, which he owns.

(Fun fact: the maximum rate of Newstart for a single person works out to $37.76 a day, but obviously being a public servant with an investment property makes Sukkar and his colleagues seven times more deserving of a taxpayer-funded handout than some desperate person without a job, right?)

But in any case, Sukkar made it clear that "enabling young people to get highly paid jobs … is the first step to buying a house", and that this is the policy of the government of which he is a minister. 


Not even three days later, the Fair Work Commission announced that penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work - the jobs that overwhelmingly attract young people - should be cut. Apparently no one can even be bothered pretending that they give a damn about the young and/or poor these days.

Not. Even. Three. Days. 

And before anyone parrots the Fair Work Commission's line that there's no difference between working weekends and public holidays and any other time: bollocks.

Working weekends means you don't see your family as much. You don't hang out with your friends when they're available. You don't get to play sport or go to your sister's baby shower or take your partner away for a weekend retreat, because you're working.

Penalty rates were established in recognition of the fact that working when most other people rest imposes an extra cost on people. Conversely, pretending that all days are pretty much the same isn't too far from wondering why we need to have any days off at all. 

That's why we invented weekends in the first place (and they were invented, by the way: people literally died in the industrial relations battle for the right to have an eight-hour work day and a weekend of rest, you know). 

To recap: the government thinks young people need to get good jobs to get ahead, and also they're ensuring that the jobs available to them don't pay as well. 

This is beyond mere hypocrisy - although it's also breathtakingly hypocritical, let's be clear. This is a war on the young and on the poor. 

So, what do you do? 

First up, join a union.

And before you say "meh, unions, they don't do anything", be aware that they absolutely do - the Turnbull government wouldn't be so childishly obsessed with destroying them if they weren't still a potent threat - and secondly, remember that the only reason you have a minimum wage, or sick leave, or any kind of time off whatsoever is because courageous men and women joined together and fought for it. You can't fight this battle alone, but we can fight it together.

Secondly, let the non-Coalition parties - particularly those in the Senate - know that you'll be watching their response to this recommendation with interest. Are they fussed about a fair go for working Australians, or is that another outdated concept along with regular hours or getting to see one's kids or not working until dropping dead behind a fast-food counter at 72?

Australians already work too long and give our employers millions of hours of free labour - and now the government is saying that a good slab of those workers are being paid too much for giving up their most valuable time? That's insult being gleefully added to massive, deliberate injury.

We've fought before, friends. Looks like it's time to fight again.


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