LIBERAL candidate for Dunkley Chris Crewther has distanced himself from previously held views on limiting penalty rates.
A ReachTel phone poll released last week found more than 83 per cent of undecided voters questioned in the marginal seat of Dunkley said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who backs any cuts to weekend loading rates.
Now, five weeks out from the 2 July election, Mr Crewther has deleted a self-penned article from his campaign Facebook page in which he put forward a plan to only pay penalty rates on the sixth or seventh day straight that someone has worked.
The former CEO of the Mildura Economic Development Board penned a comment piece published in that area’s local newspaper in January last year stating he believed penalty rates “can make things difficult for traders and employers” and pushed the case for higher weekend pay rates to only be paid if an employee has worked a sixth or seventh day in any given week.
It is a view that could prove popular with business owners but is unlikely to win support from employees who work weekend shifts.
Mr Crewther stated weekend penalty rates “can often be stressful for the business owner” because businesses cannot operate during weekends or have fewer employees working which can “reduce employment opportunities”.
“The solution I put forward is that employers pay penalty rates to employees for any sixth or seventh day of the week worked, without changing the current levels of penalty rates,” he wrote in the opinion piece.
Businesses that only operate on weekends, such as tourism operators, would then “not be obliged” to pay penalty rates to workers unless they worked a sixth or seventh day in the week according to Mr Crewther.
When asked by The News whether his views on penalty rates publicly expressed last year remained the same Mr Crewther said his “first priority is to see jobs created for Dunkley families”.
“My position and the position of my party on penalty rates is clear. There is an independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission, and we accept its rulings.”
The Fair Work Commission will soon decide whether Sunday penalty rates will be reduced to be in line with Saturday rates but this ruling will not be made until after the 2 July federal election.
Labor candidate for Dunkley Peta Murphy said she “will fight to protect penalty rates”.
“Penalty rates compensate thousands of workers here in Dunkley, who work unsociable hours, while others get to spend time with their family and friends. For some, this extra pay is what puts food on the table,” she said.
“Any proposal to cut weekend penalty rates would hit our community’s lowest paid workers the hardest – particularly those in health and community services, retail and hospitality.”
Ms Murphy said axing penalty rates would hurt Dunkley’s economy and if they were scrapped “many people would simply choose to work less”.
Further evidence of Mr Crewther’s desire to distance himself from his previous stance ahead of the election came when Facebook posts about penalty rates were deleted from his election campaign page after he was contacted by The News to ask about his views on penalty rates.
The January 2015 newspaper article was shared at the time by Mr Crewther on his Facebook page. The page switched to be his election campaign Facebook forum this year.
A candidate biography distributed by Mr Crewther notes “Chris’ idea of flexible penalty rates” was among recommendations to government made by the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) “to help small business” due to Mr Crewther’s membership of VECCI’s Small Business Policy Taskforce last year.