Election issue: penalty rates under threat


A major component of working life for most nurses and midwives is shiftwork, including nights, weekends and public holidays. When you work unsociable hours, miss out on time with family and friends and subject your body to the stresses of shiftwork, you deserve to be compensated – which is why penalty rates exist.

But here’s the worrying truth: Tony Abbott is on record as supporting the elimination of penalty rates. Big business is sending him a loud message to make cutting penalty rates a priority should he be elected. However, if enough of us make our voices heard during the election campaign, penalty rates can be protected.

Nurse Uncut wants to hear your story – what do penalty rates mean to you?

Leah’s works at a young women’s refuge in Sydney, which is a 24-hour a day, 365 days a year concern. The staff of course are paid penalty rates for the shiftwork they do. The young women who come to the refuge have suffered significant trauma and Leah works to support them so they can recover and grow into independent, confident women.

In an interview below for Australian Unions, Leah talks about her work and how essential penalty rates are to it.

Like Leah, as a nurse or midwife, you don’t work nine to five, Monday to Friday. You may have to miss significant occasions like Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. You’re simply not able to rely on spending every Sunday relaxing with your friends or partner. It’s not unreasonable to get paid a little extra for working when most others are not.

If elected, one of the first things Tony Abbott will do is launch a Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act. This will be a soap box for business to revisit its wishlist to restore key elements of WorkChoices. Their big ticket item is cutting and abolishing penalty rates.

Penalty rates are an important right that many previous generations of union members have fought for and that many nurses and midwives rely on and of course deserve.

To join the conversation about how important penalty rates are, contact us at Nurse Uncut or leave your story in comments. Let’s make sure whoever is prime minister after the election is committed to protecting the penalty rates that workers like you rely on.

And if you haven’t already, make sure you enrol to vote  or update your details if you’ve moved house in the past three years. The outcome of this election could mean that you’ll be personally out of pocket if penalty rates are eliminated.

Working Life: Australia Votes 2013 – an ACTU blog about working conditions and this election.


  1. I currently work every weekend in community palliative care on a permanent part-time basis and drive 1 hour each way from home to work in a regional town which provides a 7 day/week palliative care service to the community. If weekend penalty rates are abolished, then I will resign from this post as there will be no incentive for me to drive the extra kilometres each weekend when I can pick up extra shifts, in the same speciality, in another town closer to where I live.
    If I resigned from my weekend position it would leave that community without a weekend palliative care service and place greater pressure on the local district’s Emergency Department.

  2. Penalty rates are a way of being compensated for your time away from family, friends and a social life. My partner works 9-5 Monday to Friday, so if I have to work on a Saturday afternoon, I want some incentive. When I signed up to be a nurse, penalty rates were part of the deal and I will vote on September 7 to keep it that way.

  3. I am a registered nurse and work a 24/7 rotating roster. The only way I would support the loss of loadings would be to raise our base hourly rate by about $7 per hour (the same way NSW Police are paid, flat rate regardless of day with a small shift loading for afternoon/ night shift). This way we could work whatever shift and not lose out, however how is that fair for those who are left to work the late and night shifts because the popular day shift is often spoken for? I miss school award assemblies and nothing is geared for shift workers, the world runs on the assumption everyone works Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm. The bonus of shift work is having days off mid week, bit more relaxed and a small trade off for not being able to do the usual family activities without requesting the weekend off almost months in advance!

    I am aware Tony Abbott is not a fan of shift loadings and I hope that the Greens will hold to their promise to block him if he tries to take loadings away. Many nurses will leave as the benefit of the hours is only the remuneration. I knew shift work was part of the being a nurse but I also knew shift loading were there too.

  4. As a NSW Public High School teacher, I wonder why in times of unscrupulous working conditions and cuts, the various Unions don’t join together? As a teacher, I for one would support all public sector unions in a joint dispute – Nurses, Teachers, Police, Health all working together for an equitable work force.

  5. Our forebears worked very hard for us to have Penalty rates and the working conditions we have. Tony Abbott wants to take penalty rates away, remember this on Sept 7.

  6. I’ll be totally upfront … I’m for Abbott, full stop. Despite what someone has snap-shot about his alleged reference to penalty rates (and I really don’t care for anyone trying to say ‘look, this is what he said’), penalty rates will not be abolished.

    It’s called scare-mongering.

    Have a look at the date on the story hyperlinked above … February 2010!

    Gillard was Employment Minister, not Prime Minister. Three and a half years is a very long time in politics – especially in the lead up to a Federal election.

    How many of Labor’s policies have been broken in the same time period?

    How about someone balancing the argument out?

    Wanna talk about what Labour has done to already lower our standard of living?
    Any volunteers to pay the Labor-induced excess on my home electricity bill?

  7. Hi there,

    The article that you are referring to regarding Tony Abbott’s comments on penalty rates is from 2010 and has nothing to do with nursing penalty rates. In 2010, in that aforementioned article, he stated that he believed that “businesses such as pharmacies” will start to close on weekends due to the introduction of penalty rates and associated higher wages that those businesses are forced to pay under the Work Choices act that Labor introduced then. I am a nurse myself and value penalty rates, but I also value correct information, which seems to be hard to find when people are spreading all the wrong information. Make sure you do the research before deciding on Sept 7.

  8. Without penalty rates I couldn’t live. Not that it’s anybody else’s problem but how many workers have been accustomed to what they earn and slowly build their life around that. If all penalty rates were taken I’d have to work two jobs into overtime. Secondly, how many times have I said I can’t attend a event because I am working on the weekend. I have missed out on so much. Thirdly, if someone rings me Sunday night cause they don’t have cover, I am going to say no for base rate pay.

  9. I returned to Scotland after working in Australia for 28yrs with penalty rates to no penalty rates and not the same amount of public holidays.
    I have thought about the change in income and working a Sat/Sun afternoon /nightshift same rate as day.
    The reason I started working arvo/nightshifts in Australia was because other people did not want to do them, I really needed a job to help support the family so took any shift, but now as I look back over 28yrs I lost friends, relationships, because I worked unsocial hours. Was if worth it? No.
    And here I find the same (I only work day shift Monday/Friday) like they are the only ones that had kids/husbands/relationships/social life, so putting the rate up a little, yeah, that sounds great, but don’t think because you are arvo/nightshift/weekends that will stop, just ask the ones that only do week day work to take their turn of doing weekends, no chance, and as for resigning, that will not happen, you need the job.

  10. I strenuously object to our membership fees being used on scaremongering ads. I would object whichever party they were directed against.

  11. I want to pursue further study so as to advance my career, provide best possible nursing care and increase my income (and buy my first home, which means I need more money since the ‘first home owners’ grant has already been slashed). I’ve applied for a weekend permanent-part time position so I can attend uni throughout the week and continue to support myself + family financially as well as maintain my clinical skills. If penalties are going, well that totally stuffs things up! While you’re at it Tony, you might as well make euthanasia legal, we’re already low on staff, there won’t be any left once the penalties are slashed. You really need to get priorities right! Why do the ones with good hearts and their heads screwed on right cop all the crap 🙁


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