Penalty rate debate

RESTAURANTS and stores shutting or reducing hours at Easter say high wages mean big losses if they do otherwise.

Launceston business owners said yesterday that penalty rates mean staff were earning double or triple time to work on public holidays but income did not keep up.

Business operators, who did not want to be named, said they would open for longer or have more staff on public holidays if wages were closer to normal rates.

Pierre's co-owner Rohan Birchmore said yesterday that his Charles Street restaurant was full for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Good Friday last year, but he still lost $8000 on the day.

He said accountants KPMG did an audited report for him that identified the loss - and Pierre's will be closed this Friday, Good Friday.

``We are saddened that we cannot open our doors,'' he said.

``Our doors would be open even if we just covered our costs.''

He said some staff had to be 2.5 times normal earnings, plus have a paid day off to work Good Friday.

Mr Birchmore said it was embarrassing that tourism was growing in the state, yet some businesses had to shut their doors because of high wages.

But Unions Tasmania secretary Kevin Harkins said Good Friday had been a public holiday ``for about 2000 years'' and abolishing penalty rates would not create jobs.

``It (Good Friday trading) should be shut because of religious sensitivities and tradition,'' Mr Harkins said.

``It's a sign of respect for the day.

``Weekend rates have been around for 100 years . . . it's not going to mean one more job but will no doubt mean higher profits for business.''

Mr Harkins said hospitality paid some of the lowest wages in Australia, so a better place to start winding back conditions would be in high-paid positions.

The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce has identified penalty rates as a major impediment to employment in Tasmania.

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