Outdated industrial relations dampening Sydney’s “life”

Ross Gittins thinks it’s a horrible idea to give up our penalty rates and allow for more flexible working hours because those nasty “bosses” will stop workers from seeing their families and because having access to goods and services during “non-business” hours is bad for us because it stops us from doing things like kicking a football.

Thanks Ross, I love when people tell me that I shouldn’t be doing what I want to do because that would be “commercialising leisure”, which is bad, because “commercial” means bad and anything that doesn’t involve commerce must be good. Right?

Workers pay the penalty for one-way flexibility.

It’s not hard to see why there’s been so little public questioning of this push towards a 24/7 economy. It’s highly convenient to be able to shop whenever we have the time. The more two-income families we have, the more we value the ability to shop throughout the weekend.

It also fits with the trend towards leisure being commercialised – becoming something we buy (a meal out, a show) rather than something we do (kick a football in the park with our kids).

But this belief that life would be better if shops, restaurants and places of entertainment were open all hours rests on the assumption you and I won’t be among those required to work unsociable hours to make it happen. An even less obvious assumption is that the push for a 24/7 economy will stop when it has captured shopping and entertainment; it won’t continue and reach those of us who work in factories and offices.

As usual, the ”flexibility” being sought is one-sided. Employers gain the ability to require people to work – or not work – at times that suit their firm’s efforts to maximise its profits.

If those times don’t fit with your family responsibilities – or just with your desire to enjoy your life (you selfish person, you) – or if the boss’s requirements keep changing in unpredictable ways, that’s just too bad.

Gittins is a columnist, which is not necessarily a 9-5 job. I am willing to bet he has the chance to sleep in some days and that he can get things done during the week.

I can’t.

Like most people, I have a job that goes 9-5, Monday-Friday and more often than not, this ends up being 8:30-6:30. With the current industrial relations regime in Australia, as soon as 5pm hits shops and restaurants need to start paying their staff more, which means it becomes less viable for them to be open and the city all but dies after 6. That means all of the shops and cafes that I would go to in the evenings are closed, as are other service I’d access like doctors etc — meaning that I don’t ever go to them.

Ironically, one by-product is that, since I never have time to shop (except on Thursday nights, when everything is so busy that it’s unpleasant anyway), I have even more reason to buy things online, from overseas and hence help kill Australia’s retail sector, putting the people working until 6pm out of their jobs. Of course, there are other factors at play (hint: protectionist trade barriers, high wages and high property prices), but this is definitely significant.

Similarly, the fact that cafes can’t afford to open on Sundays mean that the people who would otherwise be working on Sundays and enjoying my patronage are instead not working. Rather than having a job, the penalty rates are giving them no job. That’s great for workers!

It also puts Australia at odds with the rest of the world. I love being in places like New York or Tel Aviv where you can get access to anything at any time and the city feels alive at all hours. Sydney and Melbourne will never feel like this so long as penalty rates turn the cities into ghost towns after 6pm.  I think this has a very negative effect on the social aspects of the cities in general.

Finally, as always, it’s really about choice. Mr Gittins can go to the park and kick a football on weekends if he wants to, as can I, but why should I not be allowed to also go shopping after dark? Especially if there are uni students willing to work a 1pm-9pm shift and serve me because they get to sleep in? Why should that be banned?

Oh, that’s right, because if it’s “commercial” it’s not really leisure.


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  1. #1 by Jah9 on April 4, 2012 - 1:57 pm


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