Over the weekend, on May Day, many Australians lined the city streets marching in commemoration of the achievements of workers.
It’s a telling sign of solidarity internationally as people the world over march with gratitude to remember the will, determination and struggle that was needed to establish the employment rights some people now take for granted.
It is a day to also reflect inwards on core Australian values such as fairness, equality and opportunity – values that still resonate today and give Australia its enviable identity.
Part of the values our nation enjoys are fair working conditions, supported by a competitive wage structure that includes penalty rates. As compensation and reward for working outside standard hours, a penalty is paid.
This is not new. In fact, penalty rates have been around for almost 100 years.
Despite the longevity of this right, penalty rates are under attack by the Abbott Government. In its determined revival of WorkChoices, the Government is waging a war to remove these important rights, disguising them as both outdated and a major cause of unemployment.
By continuing with his fear campaign, Tony Abbott has yet to acknowledge that penalty rates are pivotal to keeping vital services going.
The single biggest group of workers that are eligible for penalty rates are not in the hospitality industry, they are those that work in the healthcare and social assistance sectors.
So when Mr Abbott says, “If you don’t want to work on a weekend… don’t work on a weekend”, is he talking to Australian nurses? Is he talking to firefighters? To community service workers?
Nurses, firefighters and community service workers earn penalty rates because their services are needed around the clock. These workers forgo their weekends and standard time with family and friends for their jobs.
Penalty rates matter because the weekend matters, because community matters, because family matters, and because togetherness matters.
As Bill Shorten commented recently in the spirit of Australian values and of history, “We will never forget that when a strong minimum wage and a fair day’s work were radical notions, Labor made them universal rights.
In fact, this year, Labor made a submission to the Fair Work Commission’s Annual Wage Review, calling for an economically responsible increase to the minimum wage – the first submission by a Federal Opposition to the Annual Wage Review.
Labor’s priority is to protect living standards, jobs and ensure a strong economic future by supporting growth and a strong safety net.
On May Day, we recognise the historical significance and importance of these rights. Rights that we do not want to wilfully forgo under the pressure of an unfair Abbott Government.
Labor will always remember that a fair day’s work means a fair day’s pay.