Fair work, fair pay

People’s pay rates are more often than not a very sensitive issue. Few are willing to disclose how much they earn though, in the scheme of things, it’s hardly a serious matter. What we do all agree on, however, is the evil nature of taxation!

Just kidding. After all, where would we be if we did not surrender so much of our hard-earned to let politicians spend like drunken fools and still they saddle us with levels of debt our unborn children could not pay off? Oh, that’s depressing. Let’s not go there.

So, let’s consider the nature of work in the modern era: these days in which service provision, retailing and much of manufacturing and production have become effectively 24-7 activities. Skilled and unskilled jobs now frequently entail well outside the traditional notion of 9 to 5.

Not much we can do about that since the genie certainly won’t be returning to that bottle. But there is a lot of angst around remuneration levels for these new ‘standard’ hours of work. At issue is whether ‘unsociable hours of work’ merit penalty rates.

Employers in many industries and sectors have been vociferous in calling for them to be scrapped arguing that they simply cannot be afforded when competitions is so cut-throat. But, seriously, when was it ever any different?

In the old days, it was common for work on Saturdays to be paid at 1.5 times the standard rate with Sundays – the traditional Christian day of supposed rest – attracting double time. And, of course, there was the munificent remuneration of 2.5 times’ pay for work on public holidays.

With many workplaces having successfully eliminated penalty rates for these days, the focus now falls on the rampaging growth of other ‘unsociable hours’. Shift work is common across retailing, for example, with many employees working hours they would no doubt prefer to be at home with friends and family enjoying more normal routines.

Should they be paid a ‘loading’ to compensate for not being able to readily mingle with others working ‘normal’ hours? To date (in Australia at least) these loadings have largely been adhered to but the pressure from employers is mounting and will only persist until it becomes probably overwhelming.

No-one is willing to impose – or pay – a surcharge on services provided ‘out-of-normal-hours’ so employers cannot recoup this impost. Which means the pressure to eliminate them will grow.

Those of us privileged to work standard hours but who enjoy taking advantage of service provision well outside that timespan may pretend the issue is not personally relevant. But it is. We would all do well to walk a mile in the shoes of those who do have to surrender normal work hours to gain a wage and imagine the annoyance and frustration that would most often entail. These are real people serving us and our humanity should suggest they deserve some additional recompense for making our lives easier and better. Fair’s fair, after all.