FWC keeps stevedoring penalty rates intact

The Fair Work Commission has ruled against a plan to significantly cut penalty rates in the stevedoring award

FWC keeps stevedoring penalty rates intact
The Fair Work Commission has made no change to penalty rates in the stevedoring award


Australia’s stevedoring operators have failed to convince the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that it should take a new approach to penalty rates at the wharves.

Still, a dissenting view may be enough to re-raise the issue outside the next four-yearly review of the stevedoring award.

Both Qube and the DP World group of companies urged the FWC to adopt a new raft of penalty rates as part of the current review, which was effectively completed last week.

They proposed a system with no penalty rates for weekend day work, and lower premiums attached to evening and night work on both weekdays and weekends.

Current penalty rates of 250 per cent for Sunday day shifts and 200 per cent for Saturday day shifts would be removed. Night shift penalties would be reduced from 250 per cent to 130 per cent (150 per cent on Saturday nights) and evening shift penalties would have fallen from 150 per cent to 115 per cent (150 per cent on weekend evenings).

The stevedores, with backing from the Australian Industry Group, say the existing penalty rate system was far in excess of those provided in other 24-7 industries.

They also sought to cease the award’s distinction between work on Saturdays and Sundays, saying "Sunday (had) particular significance last century, or for part of last century, but that can no longer be maintained".

They noted also that very few stevedoring workers could be considered "low paid" and by reducing penalty rates, employers could afford to hire more staff for greater spread across rosters and improved shift safety.

The Maritime Union of Australia opposed the changes, saying the existing penalty rates reflect the unpredictable nature of the industry and rostering.

Assistant national secretary Warren Smith says fewer than 20 per cent of the stevedoring workforce have rosters in which more than 50 per cent of shifts are predictable.

The three-strong FWC panel found the employers did not provide enough evidence to back up what would be a significant, fundamental change to the award.

"While it is not disputed that the level of penalty rates in this industry are above those in comparable industries, we are not satisfied that the applicants have established the case for their proposed variation to penalty rates," the commission ruled.

"The award achieved the modern awards objective at the time that it was made, and the applicants have not established that the award no longer meets that objective."

It is understood that FWC vice president Graeme Watson offered a dissenting view, but was overruled by the majority of the panel.

It says employers will be able to resubmit their claims, with stronger evidence, at a later stage: "It remains open for the applicants to seek to address the evidentiary shortcomings we have identified in this case and make application to vary the penalty rate provisions of the Award outside the next four-yearly review."


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