Tomaree Business Chamber talks penalty rates with Paterson MP Meryl Swanson

SENSITIVE TOPIC: Nelson Bay pharmacist Rory Milne said neither side of politics wanted to talk about the elephant in the room, penalty rates. Picture: Sam Norris

SENSITIVE TOPIC: Nelson Bay pharmacist Rory Milne said neither side of politics wanted to talk about the elephant in the room, penalty rates. Picture: Sam Norris

A NELSON Bay pharmacist says that Sundays and public holidays have become a “loss-making exercise”.

Chemart Pharmacy proprietor Rory Milne said the issue was partly penalty rates but also inflexible work arrangements for and area that depends on tourist trade.

“It’s extremely difficult on Sundays and public holidays to employ senior staff,” he said.

“Basically it’s a loss-making exercise but its our customers who are missing out on that service from our most knowledgeable staff.”

Mr Milne raised the issue with Paterson MP Meryl Swanson at the Tomaree Business Chamber meeting last Thursday.

“I’m not talking about paying people less, we just need to find more flexibility in the system,” he said.

“Rostering is one of the hardest parts of our business and it’s especially hard to vary a part-time roster when you have to give two weeks notice to staff.”

Ms Swanson was invited to the chamber meeting to hear of the challenges business face on the Tomaree Peninsula and on numerous occasions expressed her desire to have her shadow cabinet colleagues come to Nelson Bay.

Officially, youth unemployment is hovering at 15 per cent in the Hunter though Ms Swanson speculated it was closer to 20 per cent “if not higher in Nelson Bay”.

In a broad-ranging discussion she spoke about the “failure of trickle down economics in Australia” and Labor’s desire for “inclusive prosperity”. 

“The more people that are prosperous the more your businesses will benefit,” she said.

It was a point she reiterated when penalty rates were raised.

“Penalty rates and flexibility are two separate issues, they’re independent,” she said.

“Paying people less will not generate more revenue for your business, that’s been proven.”

Mr Milne said neither side of politics had been able to address an issue “too sensitive” since the Howard government’s divisive Work Choices.

“It might be sensitive but we still have to have this discussion particularly when this area has a seven-day economy,” he said.

“It’s a political hot potato – no one wants to talk about it.”

The industry says the system favours casual employment to a point.

But once those casuals pick up regular hours employers are legally required to put them on as permanent part time which introduces more challenges.

“I’d rather see the hourly rate increased and have penalty rates capped at time-and-a-half,” Mr Milne said.

“This isn’t about reducing the overall wages bill.

“We’ve got some people who are carers for example who want to work weekends.”

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