Candid comments by prominent Liberal MP John Alexander have revealed a hidden Coalition agenda to scrap the penalty rate system which millions of Australians depend upon to meet their costs of living.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the unguarded comments, recorded in Mr Alexander’s electorate last week, show how recklessly out-of-touch the Coalition is from the needs and stresses faced by working Australians and their families.

Mr Alexander, who holds John Howard’s old seat of Bennelong on Sydney’s north shore, reportedly said that penalty rates should be scrapped and workers should be forced to negotiate individually with their employer about their wages and conditions.

He was reportedly recorded saying:

“It [weekend penalty rates] is something that must be addressed and it must be addressed without that position of the worker is king and must be given these rights . . .I think you should be able to negotiate with your employer the conditions of your work. If penalty rates are not productive, if they’re not
producing efficiency, they cannot be a good thing.”

Ms Kearney said Mr Alexander had been caught on tape articulating a Liberal core belief.

“Mr Alexander’s unguarded comments are revealing of how strongly the WorkChoices fire continues to burn within the belly of the Liberal Party,” she said.

“His call for individual contracts and the scrapping of long-standing basic entitlements to penalty rates is nothing short than a blueprint for a re-run of WorkChoices.

“The Australian community and the majority of employers do not support a ‘race to the bottom’ approach that would see Australian workers paid wages and conditions of those in developing countries.

“At $17 an hour, retail workers are among the lowest paid in Australia. Millions of Australians rely on penalty rates to meet their cost of living expenses. Taking away penalty rates would place unbearable pressures on their household finances.

“Penalty rates provide some compensation for working unsociable hours, and without them retailers would struggle to attract people to work on weekends and public holidays and at night, and many, many more shops would not be open when customers want them to be.”

Ms Kearney said employers and the Liberal Party were equally guilty in spreading mistruths about the retail sector. Over the past five years, retail industry profits have risen by 50%, while total wages have increased by only 24%.

“Blaming workers for any perceived ‘woes’ in the retail sector is flawed logic. If John Alexander got out a bit more, he’d quickly discover that rents and the impact of the high Australian dollar were placing far more pressure on retail than wages.”