Hotels association says rostering rules confusing, encourage industry to use casual rather than permanent staff

By Madeleine Heffernan | SmartCompany |

The Australian Hotels Association says rostering rules are creating confusion among hoteliers, and are encouraging them to take on casual workers rather than permanent workers.

Speaking ahead of the release of a discussion paper on the Fair Work Act review and a survey of its 5,000-odd members, AHA spokesman Steven Fanner says anecdotally, flexibility around rostering and public holiday penalties have emerged as key issues for the $15 billion sector.

“The way that the Fair Work Act deals with permanent employees, it’s difficult to have flexibility without overtime and penalty payments,” Fanner says.

“And that doesn’t match up with the dynamic, seasonal hospitality industry.”

According to Fanner, part of the reason why two-thirds of the industry are casual workers is because sorting out whether full-time workers can change their hours is not worth the hassle for operators.

“If we want to change a shift around, we need to make sure appropriate breaks have taken place and the staff members haven’t worked so many hours in the previous days [to prevent overtime payments],” he says.

“That’s why most employers will use casuals when they can.”

According to the Australian Financial Review, under the Hospitality Award 2010, full-time players must be paid at least six hours a day; permanent part-time workers must be paid at for least three and casual workers are allowed to work a minimum of two hours.

There are also stipulations on worker breaks after consecutive days of overtime.

Fanner adds that public holidays were a problem over summer, with penalty rates soaring after both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on the weekend.

The AHA has previously said its members are hard hit by wage prices because a large proportion of work is performed outside normal business hours and therefore subject to penalty rates.

An IBISWorld report into pubs, taverns and bars in Australia, released last month, tipped 1.3% growth in the 2011-12 year, saying growth had been constrained over the past few years by declining beer consumption, strong competition from liquor retailers and the economic downturn, which caused the collapse of some highly leveraged pub operators and led many consumers to swap a bar stool at their local for the comfort of their couch at home.”

“To make matters worse, there have been changing community attitudes towards the industry’s two major products, alcohol and gambling, in the past five years.”

The report says the sector’s 3,000-odd businesses employ almost 79,000 people, and noted that about 85% of total revenue is derived from alcohol sales, off-premises liquor sales and gaming and wagering activities.

The comments follow the collapse of several high profile pub owners over the past few years, including National Leisure & Gaming, Cornerstone Hotels, Compass Hotel Group, Munday Grop and Icon Hospitality.

But not everybody is shying away from the sector; veteran ad man John Singlelton picked up some hotels in Sydney throughout 2011 and there are expectations opportunistic buyers will emerge this year.

The comments follow complaints by several industry bodies about the penalty rates set in the Fair Work Act.

This week, the Australian Tourism Export Council said the industry was struggling with penalty rates, and the expiration of enterprise bargaining agreements will put further strain on operators, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises operating in regional and rural areas.

And the Restaurant and Catering Association also recently called for the hospitality sector to be exempted from some Fair Work provisions, including the mandatory payment of penalty rates – double time and a half – on weekends and public holidays.

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