As this extra-long weekend draws to a close, it's worth reflecting on how Easter - specifically, working over the extended break - has become a political issue.
This Easter was the second since the Fair Work Commission authorised lower penalty rates in 2017. The pay cuts were staggered over several years, but last year's reductions were the first steep steps. An Australia Institute analysis suggests that, over this four-day weekend, half a million retail and hospitality staff will miss out on about $80 million in wages. Labor says the average fast-food worker in Canberra will receive $218 less than they were paid previously, while pharmacy employees will lose $369.
Bill Shorten has vowed to reverse the penalty-rate decision if Labor wins next month's federal election. With an ALP victory likely, this could be the last Easter break for years under the new, lower-paid regime.
Yet that doesn't mean penalty-rate reform will remain off the agenda. Employers will demand some changes to past practices, and staff may see some benefit in change, too.
The labour movement was quick to blame the pay cuts on the Coalition, which did have the power to stop them. Nonetheless, the decision was made by the commission, an independent tribunal. The commission heard arguments from all parties in the affected labour markets and decided that the existing pay rules did not reflect working realities.
Historically, penalty rates were compensation for work beyond staff's "ordinary hours". In today's retail and hospitality industries, however, no one regards 9am to 5pm as ordinary. The commission flagged "loaded rates" - higher, flat rates of pay - as more beneficial to workers and simpler to administer for employers. Unfortunately for employees, its cuts to penalty rates arrived without the proposed compensatory "loading".
Australians led the world in the push for fewer working hours - a century before most countries.
Last week, University of Wollongong researchers released a study of how the penalty-rate cuts were affecting workplaces. They found no evidence of the expected behavioural changes: employees had not hired more staff, and staff were not working more hours on Sundays or public holidays. A caveat of the study is it took place before the rates transition was complete; businesses would likely take time to adjust to new pay rules. But the apparent lack of an "economically rational" response to lower pay suggests another factor - the cultural value of weekends - is an especially important consideration for workers and businesses in this country.
Australians (with New Zealanders) led the world in the push for fewer working hours - not last century, when the 40-hour week became commonplace, but a full century before. From the 1850s, stonemasons and other skilled labourers simply refused to work beyond eight hours a day. They celebrated their rights proudly in marches, encouraging other workers to fight for the same conditions. It's worth noting that "winning" an eight-hour day often coincided with a loss of pay, but was embraced nonetheless as progress.
Australia has, of course, changed in the 160 years since. Sundays are no longer sacred. Some workers' "ordinary hours" are at night or when others holiday - and that suits them. But Australians have a proud history of standing up to unfair impositions. They might not mind working weekends, but any future changes to employment practices must benefit all parties.