06 November 2014

check out operatorMany Australians who regularly work unsocial hours such as Sundays would choose to stop working those hours if they no longer received penalty rates, a new report has found.

Dr Tony Daly from the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work + Life says penalty rates are the prime motivation behind many employees’ decisions to work on weekends and weeknights past 9pm.

“The report shows a significant proportion of employees work unsocial hours and rely on penalty rates for household expenses, and that many would not work these hours without a pay premium,” Dr Daly says.

The report, titled Evenings, nights and weekends: Working unsocial hours and penalty rates, also shows many workers might be at financial risk if changes were made to penalty rates.

“It appears that workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, and in electricity, gas, water and waste services, are more likely to have their household finances affected by a removal of penalty rates for working unsocial hours,” Dr Daly says.

“Labourers and those on permanent or ongoing contracts were also more likely to financially rely on penalty rates.

“Women, workers with lower household incomes, and employees in rural or regional locations may be at greater financial risk if policy changes are made to the payment of penalty rates for working unsocial hours.”

Dr Daly says removing penalty rates could have a significant impact on the labour market, with the Evenings, nights and weekends report showing that 48 per cent of retail workers say they would not continue working unsocial hours if penalty rates weren’t available.

In compiling the report, Dr Daly analysed findings from the 2014 Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) survey which showed working unsocial hours can have a negative effect on work-life balance. Those who work regularly on weekends, especially on Sundays, reported that work interfered with life much more than workers who have weekends off.

Penalty rates were originally introduced to deter employers from making staff work long or abnormal hours and to compensate those who work outside of ‘normal’ hours. Sunday work traditionally attracts the highest rates of pay.

Dr Daly says his report found a significant relationship between workers’ decisions to work unsocial hours and whether they receive, and rely on, penalty rates.

“It’s easy to accept that we are becoming a 24/7 economy and Saturday working has certainly become more common,” he says.

“But why would workers choose to give up their only remaining opportunity for a ‘day of rest’? Would they choose to work on Sundays if they weren’t compensated?

“Our research found that not everyone receives penalty rates for working Sundays or other unsocial hours, with over 54 per cent of our respondents reporting that they didn’t receive extra pay or penalty rates for working outside normal hours.

“We also found that, of the 46 per cent of workers who did receive penalty rates, more than a third relied on that extra pay to cover their household expenses. In fact, over half of those who received penalty rates for working unsocial hours said that they wouldn’t work those hours if penalty rates weren’t offered.”

Dr Daly says that many workers rely on penalty rates to meet household expenses, and there will be some groups who could be left financially vulnerable if that extra pay was no longer available.

The full report can be accessed here.

Contact for interview: Dr Tony Daly office (08) 8302 4800 email tony.daly@unisa.edu.au

Media contact: Kelly Stone office 8302 0963 mobile 0417 861 832 email Kelly.stone@unisa.edu.au

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