Penalty Kick

It’s been a busy week so I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on George Calombaris’s comments about the penalty rates restaurants have to pay staff on evenings and weekends. I normally don’t have time for Calombaris — or the Australian MasterChef franchise — but this commentary in Australian Hospitality Magazine I think sums up the issue quite neatly:

The trouble is that George Colombaris has done the unthinkable in attacking one of the bastions of Australia’s lotus-living lifestyle. He couldn’t have attracted more venom if he had called for the banning of Australian Rules or suggested the Sydney Harbour Bridge be turned into a skate park.

Although the resulting focus of the fracas has fallen on the foodservice industry the problem is far wider and goes much deeper than that highlighted by George’s interests.

Quite simply, the whole Australian workplace and, therefore, the national economy is undermined by the pernicious concept of penalty rates. They are illogical and unsustainable, especially in these days when the chances of survival for any business are diminishing by the day.

Where is the penalty in working at night or on a weekend if you do so by choice. It is akin to a Press Club diner ordering one of George’s delectable dishes and then demanding payment because he decides it’s not to his taste. You chose it – you eat it. You seek a job in foodservice – you accept the hours and days of work.

Exactly right. Calombaris has been protrayed as quite the prick with a fork himself, with commentators suggesting that because he is successful and charges a motza for his food, he ought not complain. But his complaint is a large part of the reason why one can’t go out to breakfast with one’s partner on a Sydney Sunday and be sure of getting back change for a $50.

I would add that guaranteed wages undermine a service culture, which remains spotty to non-existent in Australian restaurants from cafes to three-hatters. Diners and servers alike would benefit from a move to an American-style minimum wage-plus-tips arrangement.

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