ANUSA President James Connolly opposes the cuts to penalty rates. Photo: Chloe Tredrea
Students gathered in union court on Monday to protest the Fair Work Commission’s plans to reduce penalty rates, cutting Sunday wages for casual workers by up to 25 percent.
Organised by ANUSA in conjunction with Unions ACT, United Voice and the National Union of Students (NUS), the event saw speakers rail against the planned changes to a crowd of around fifty.
ACT Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry praised the protestors while highlighting the potential impact the cuts would have on young Australians.
‘For me and the ACT Government, we are absolutely 100 percent behind this campaign to build a better community here in the ACT and across the country that respects the rights of young people and families in our community, and that they should be able to earn a half-decent wage,’ Berry said.
Berry also urged students to support businesses that show that they ‘respect their employees’ by refusing to implement the penalty rate cuts.
ACT NUS Branch President Nick Douros spoke of a friend of his, Nathan Kerwood, who will be affected by the changes.
‘He’s decided to take extra shifts so he can have savings before this cut happens. For him, that’s a hundred dollars a week that he’s worse off now,’ Douros said.
‘Shame’, an audience member muttered.
A surprise appearance at the event was that of Humphrey McQueen, a widely published historian who – despite his advanced age – appeared as passionate as ever about student activism.
‘Don’t be sold off before the election and be told that you don’t have to fight for your rights – you just have to vote for them. You’ve got to do everything! Fight for them’, McQueen urged the crowd in an impromptu speech.
Mere hours before the rally, Opposition Party Leader Bill Shorten announced that he would be introducing a bill opposing the penalty rate changes.
The Fair Work Commission, the independent umpire that sets penalty rates, was originally established by a Labor government in 2009. Yet the understanding of the Fair Work Commission as an independent body seems to have evaporated, with many speakers blaming the government for the changes, and the Labor Party contradicting the body it created.