Penalty rates threatened by LNP say unions

UNIONS are warning small business employees they could loose their penalty rates and pay conditions under a State Government proposal to claw back industrial relation powers from the Commonwealth.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie released an issues paper which outlined the controversial issue on Tuesday.

He said small business groups had raised concerns about Federal Fair Work legislation amid a push to give some relevant industrial relations powers back to the state.

"In November 2009, the former Labor government passed legislation to refer small business industrial relations matters to the Commonwealth," Mr Bleijie said.

"Small business operators have told us they are finding the current arrangements difficult and this issues paper is a direct response to their concerns.

"The Fair Work Act Review has also revealed concerns in the business community about the legislation's impact, particularly on workplace flexibility and productivity."

Mr Bleijie said small business employers also raised concerns at a recent State Government tourism conference in Cairns, Destination Q, about penalty rates on a Sunday.

But Queensland Council of Unions pointed out the removal of penalty rates could leave small business employees earning up to $50 less on a Sunday.

QCU president John Battams said shifting 300,000 small business employees back into the Queensland industrial relations system would also leave them vulnerable to loosing pay conditions.

Mr Battams said that the Newman Government's close relationship with business groups made it likely that a new industrial relations system would be used to cut workers' entitlements.

"It is clear that the only reason they would take the trouble to do this is if they have an agenda to extend their anti-worker policies to more Queenslanders," he said.

Australian Council of trade Unions president Ged Kearney said under the changes the Newman Government "could rip apart the state award system to suit employers".

"It is clear that the only reason they would take the trouble to do this is if they have an agenda to extend their anti-worker policies to more Queenslanders," she said.

"It is particularly concerning given that when Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie first raised the idea three months ago, Premier Newman dismissed it, yet now it appears that it has been his government's plan all along."

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland put forward a submission to a Fair Work Amendment Bill in September arguing for tighter restriction on penalty rates.

The Bill would ensure that a modern award could not require a business employing fewer than 20 fulltime employees in the restaurant and catering or retail industries to pay penalty rates to an employee unless they have worked more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, or more than 38 hours total, in that week.

In a statement in September, CCIQ argued employers could not afford to pay their employees three times the normal award rate on weekends and evenings and as a result were forced to close, operate at a loss or put fewer staff on.