Weekends & Work-Life Balance

Below is a summary of the issue that the Sydney Alliance is concerned about in 2018. 

To get involved in this campaign contact [email protected]




Civil society in Sydney is organising civil society organisations together in a way that reaffirms their important role in the public square and create space for powerful politicians to listen to the voices of those who will be affected.


Sunday rates for working families is a huge issue for those families, older people, shift workers and students that rely on them. 

In Sydney, representatives from the NSW Baptist Churches, Uniting Church Synod NSW.ACT, Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Sydney Catholic Archdiocese, Anglican Church of the Diocese of Sydney social issues committee, trade unions and the NSW Council of Social Services (the peak body for community organisations in NSW) have been in roundtable discussions about their concerns and opposition of the removal of penalty rates and these organisations have made submissions to the Fair Work Commission to this effect and expressed disappointment in their findings. 

The issue: Sunday rates

Peak bodies in the business sector have a long history, but in recent times these organisations have become increasingly organised and well-funded in pursuing a vision of Australia as a 24/7 trading environment with workers and customers available at all hours. Since the 1970s they have gradually won access to time that was traditionally set aside for family, community, and spiritual pursuits.

Having won the right to trade at all hours by agreeing to compensate workers for time away from family and other activities, business interests are now ramping up their campaign to reduce these costs. The Fair Work Commission (FWC) penalty rates case decision was the next step in this campaign to keep extending trading hours toward 24/7, while securing a cheap workforce that is always available.

Summary of arguments

  1. Penalty rates make an important statement about the primacy of human relationships Human relationships are sustained by time spent together. All relationships, and particularly families with young children, face increasing pressure to find the time needed to gather and build their relationships. Shared time is the bedrock of relationship for adults and children alike, and particularly for parents and children to forge the bonds essential to developing character and resilience in young people. In addition, shared time builds and strengthens community as we engage with friends, neighbours, and others. Common times such as Saturday, and Sunday in particular, are the days historically set aside in Australia to facilitate these precious opportunities. Weekend penalty rates are therefore a signal to us all that common rest and recreation time is valued in our community. It is a system of remuneration, properly understood, as it was conceived as compensation for those who are working at a time when most others have the opportunity to gather with family and community.
  2. Sundays are distinct: In Australian culture, Sundays are a day for rest, worship, family and community. We do not believe there is any need for more businesses to open on Sundays.  Sunday is a busy trading day already under the current arrangements.  We note that employer groups and the Productivity commission believe Saturday and Sunday are equivalent. 
    1. 15% of the Australian population attend church once per month or more – mostly on Sundays (National Census 2011/National Church Life Survey 2011). The 2011 National Census shows that 61% of Australian citizens identify with a Christian denomination.
    2. Sundays host every major Fun Run in Australia – including Sydney’s City to Surf and equivalent events in other capital cities; the vast majority of major sporting finals – including every grand slam Tennis final, every Grand Prix, every V8 motor race on the Australian Calendar; and a large selection of other events.
  3. Sunday trading and Christian churches – some church leaders see double time on Sunday as an incentive that encourages people to work on Sunday... Perhaps – but every employer submission promises that reducing pay on Sundays will lead to more shops opening, longer hours, and more people working on Sundays. It is clear that once shops are allowed to open, it is the disincentive effect of penalty rates that restricts shops from opening and limits people working on Sundays. Sunday may be ‘special’ because of Australia’s Christian past, but a day off with family and friends benefits everyone. Penalty rates on Sunday benefit non-Christians and other faiths who give up this time in order to serve the rest of us.

  4. Justice: Reductions in Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality employees creates a second class of citizens in Australia.
  5. Families: Reductions in Sunday penalty rates will increase both time and financial pressure on low-paid households.  We feel this will damage relationships and detract from family time, with unpredictable negative consequences.

  6. Poverty:  Sunday penalty rates in low-skilled industries such as hospitality and retail allow students, immigrants, low-paid workers, and people trying to escape poverty to accumulate some savings or make ends meet.  Reducing Sunday penalty rates leaves marginal households more precarious and makes it harder for people to escape or stay out of poverty.

  7. Poverty knock on effects: Poverty is a factor (not the only factor) in other social problems – from domestic violence to homelessness, youth poverty and homelessness, mental health, and relational breakdown. If Sunday penalty rates are to be reduced the public and charitable resources will be further stretched to compensate.

  8. Reduce penalty rates = more jobs? – We are told removing ‘antiquated’ penalty rates in retail and hospitality will mean more jobs. The question for discussion is whether we want more jobs if we need to pay people less to create them, and they are only available at unsociable hours. In the UK more than 50% of people living in poverty are in working households (Rowntree Foundation). In the USA, 1/3 of families are classified as ‘working poor’ (Oxfam). For discussion: what sort of pressures on families and marriages does poor work at unsociable hours create? How much does loss of Sunday penalty rates in retail, hospitality, and tourism remove a pathway out of poverty for people with industries that are low-skilled and low paid? This impacts disproportionately on women – who are over-represented in these industries; and removes a rung from the ladder for people trying to climb out of poverty, or students trying to get through university (with fees are set to rise). [Financial and time pressure on low-paid households can contribute to family and relational breakdown, domestic violence, youth homelessness, mental illness etc.] Reductions in penalty rates will simply transfer wealth from the have-nots to the haves. We further note that when 7-Eleven paid its employees 50% of their entitlements, this did not appear to create more jobs in the 7-Eleven chain. 


What are we doing about it?

In the lead up to the last Federal Election the Sydney Alliance ran a series of non-partisan roundtables and assemblies that brought community, faith and union groups together. This work will continue in the lead up to the next Federal election. You are invited to take part. Contact [email protected] for more.

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