Australians' enjoyment of the biggest sporting weekend of the year is under threat from a push by employers and politicians to create a 24/7 economy and abolish penalty rates, say unions.
The ACTU has called on Parliament to reject a push to strip penalty rates from hundreds of thousands of workers , including those who will be required to work during this weekend's AFL and NRL Grand Finals.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Grand Final weekend was an example of the importance of penalty rates in compensating people who worked unsociable hours on weekends and public holidays.
Ms Kearney said a bill put forward by independent Senator Nick Xenophon would immediately slash the wages of workers across the hospitality and retail sectors who worked for business with 20 employees or fewer.
The ACTU today released its submission to a Senate committee examining the Fair Work Amendment (Small Business - Penalty Rates Exemption) Bill 2012 which calls for the bill to be rejected.
Ms Kearney said Senator Xenophon's bill would be a wage cut for up to 500,000 workers - half of whom are on the minimum award wage.
"The financial pressures on working Australians are as great today as they have ever been. Penalty rates have existed for decades to compensate award-reliant workers for the effects that working unsociable hours have on health, family and social life," Ms Kearney said.
"This weekend tens of thousands of workers will miss the chance to watch the AFL and NRL Grand Finals with family and friends because they will be required to work.
"Football grand finals are a perfect example of why weekends are different to weekdays. Treating the weekend as just another day totally ignores the fact that workers are people with social lives and family responsibilities. Penalty rates are a fair recognition of what workers are required to sacrifice to keep businesses running on week-ends and public holidays.
"For low-paid workers, penalty rates can be the extra money that allows them to pay rent and bills. Nor is there any evidence that reducing wages by removing penalty rates will result in higher levels of employment.
"Senator Xenophon is putting the interests of business groups ahead of the well-being of Australian workers and their families. Not only will this plan be detrimental to workers and their families, reduced wages will hurt the economy by reducing consumer spending power."
The ACTU also called on the Coalition to make its position on the importance of penalty rates clear, after industrial relations spokesperson, Eric Abetz, refused to say what an Abbott government would do about this issue, if elected.
Media contact: Ben Ruse ph 0409 510 879