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revival of WorkChoices, the Government is waging a war to remove these important rights, disguising them as both outdated and a major cause of unemployment.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.

    CONTRIBUTOR click to Donate

    The Chifley Research Centre relies on contributions from individuals and organisations to fund our operations, events and research. Without your donations, nothing we do would be possible.

  • Cameron Clyne

    Cameron Clyne is the former CEO of National Australia Bank and now chairman of advisory firm Camel Partners and a

    Catherine King

    Catherine King is the Shadow Minister for Health and Member for Ballarat.

    Cilla DeLacy

    Cilla has 20 years’ experience in public policy and corporate strategy across the water, land use planning and environmental management

    David Coats

    David Coats is in Australia as a Visitor at the Chifley Research Centre. He is a research fellow at the

    Gabrielle Kuiper

    Dr Gabrielle Kuiper has a background in science, sustainability and urban planning. She was previously Senior Adviser, Climate Change, Energy

    Jim Chalmers

    Jim Chalmers MP is Shadow Minister for Finance, and the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Prior to his election

    Linda Tirado

    Linda Tirado is a completely average American. She also has good rants about how much it sucks to be poor

    Terri Butler

    Terri Butler is the federal Labor Member for Griffith, Queensland.

    Tim Kennedy

    Tim Kennedy is national secretary of the National Union of Workers, organising for secure jobs and a fair Australia.

    Website design and development by