Hospitality dilemmas hit home

PUBLIC holidays are an integral part of Australian culture - many people enjoy and expect to be able to get a meal or a drink at local cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Unfortunately, more and more of these establishments are closing their doors on public holidays because of crippling penalty rates.

Federal and state governments have gone too far in enshrining penalty rates that can see the hourly rate for casual waiting and bar staff jump from the normal $21.31 an hour to $46.89 on public holidays.

The more worrying aspect is that both the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry continue to plead for help but hit a brick wall with Workplace Relations Minister David O'Byrne.

And Mr O'Byrne has a clear conflict of interest which is hindering the hospitality industry.

THA general manager Steve Old has claimed several times that the current system is not working and needs to be overhauled.

Mr Old is a staunch Labor supporter. He was once Jim Bacon's right-hand man during unprecedented growth in Tasmania, so he is pragmatic enough to balance Labor values with job opportunities.

Mr Old quite rightly points out that if businesses shut their doors and workers do not get the hours, then everyone loses.

Many bar staff and casuals are university students who want evening and weekend work.

Mr Old also says that workers should not be underpaid but that the balance had shifted too far towards the workers and the unions.

TCCI chief economist Phil Bayley is equally critical.

He says that it is all about flexibility and co-operation in tough economic times, and in a place like Tasmania, which promotes itself as a tourist destination, a closed cafe or bar is the worst possible advertisement for a tourism industry, and one that is critically challenged at the moment.

It is quite glib for Mr O'Byrne to simply dismiss these concerns by saying it was up to businesses to make a choice about when to open.

When this issue was raised some months ago, Mr O'Byrne trotted out the tired union line that penalty rates were there to compensate people who worked on public holidays and missed spending time with their friends and family.

This view is dated and counter- productive and Mr O'Byrne needs to move with the times and listen to the industry.

But, back to Mr O'Byrne's conflict of interest. Let's not forget the mid-year controversy about Mr O'Byrne getting $14,000 of union money for his 2010 campaign - yes, from his old Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union which represents hospitality workers.

Mr O'Byrne also holds the Economic Development portfolio but continually takes the hard union line on penalty rates.

Mr O'Byrne's old union appears to be getting good value for its donation.

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