Bill Shorten has used the Easter public holidays to highlight that low-paid workers are losing hundreds of dollars from cuts to penalty rates, and that they will face further hits to their income if the Coalition is re-elected.
As both leaders hit the trail again on Saturday after the Good Friday break, Labor focussed on the penalty rates debate while the Coalition was set to announce $100m to fund clinical trials in remote and regional areas.
The Labor leader took his federal election campaign to St Kilda on Saturday, speaking to Luna Park workers before they opened the gates to the amusement park.
In his industrial relations rallying cry to the dozen employees, Shorten acknowledged the fact that their bosses and union had agreed to preserve public holiday rates.
“But hundreds of thousands of people have had their penalty rates cut,” he told the workers.
“Everything is going up in Australia except people’s wages, and the rot stops when we reverse the cuts to penalty rates,” Shorten said.
Labor released estimates on Saturday showing that workers in the the retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmacy industries would lose between $220 and $360 in the 10 days from Good Friday.
Shorten has promised to reverse the Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision on penalty rates. The FWC reduced public holiday penalties for retail and hospitality workers from double-time and one-half to double-time and one-quarter.
Because the changes have been staggered by the commission, with additional changes set for July this year and next in some industries, Labor argued that further wage cuts are coming under the Coalition.
“When everything is going up except people’s wages, the last thing that workers need is another cut to their take-home pay packet,” Shorten said on Saturday.
“Our position is not taken lightly. We respect the independent umpire, but they got this one wrong,” he said.
The Coalition has said it respects the decision of the FWC and has accused Labor of interfering with its independence by legislating to reverse the decision.
Morrison started the day in Sydney, zeroing in on and health, and will announce a $100m package to fund clinical trials for medicines and treatment in rural and remote Australia and $65m to help researchers find a cure for cystic fibrosis.
“Rural patients with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses often have it twice as hard, spending much of their life on the road to get the treatment they need and deserve,” he said.
“This funding brings the trials to them but it also means more time can be spent at home with loved ones.”
Morrison’s campaigning on health follows Labor’s announcement last week about cutting healthcare costs for cancer patients. After stumbles over superannuation and climate change, the opposition leader is now looking to reset the ledger with a focus on industrial relations, widely considered a key Labor strength.
Labor figures show the cuts to penalty rates would cost fast food workers $220 over the Easter holidays, while hospitality workers would face a $280 hit to their pay. For retail, there was a $276 cut and pharmacy workers stood to lose almost $370.
The opposition has promised to reverse the cuts within 100 days if it wins the 18 May election and says it will legislate so penalties “can’t be cut for anyone again”. The Australian reported on Saturday that Labor would seek to pass its legislation before 30 June so it can deal with the existing Senate.
Shorten spent Good Friday serving the homeless at a soup kitchen in Melbourne, after he and Morrison agreed not to campaign, out of respect for the holy day.
The pair are hitting the campaign trail today, before taking a break again on Easter Sunday.
– Australian Associated Press contributed to this report