News & Current Affairs
12 January 2015
by David Washington
Pubs flag Australia Day closure
Fans celebrating Australia Day at Adelaide Oval last year.
ADELAIDE | There won’t be international cricket in Adelaide on Australia Day – and now your chance of heading to your local pub to celebrate the national day has also taken a blow.
Many pubs across South Australia will close on Australia Day due to a hike in public holiday penalty rates, the industry says.
Smaller family businesses and country pubs are likely to be most affected, with some flagging closures on all public holidays including Anzac Day and Australia Day.
After a five-year transition period, South Australian hospitality workers moved to the full federal award from January 1 this year – and it doesn’t seem to have pleased either publicans or the unions.
For many staff, such as glassies and bartenders, the award results in a slight reduction in weekday pay rates, but a huge increase in public holiday rates.
Most pubs will pay an extra $23 an hour to bar, kitchen and wait staff on public holidays, virtually doubling their pay rate to more than $50 an hour. By contrast, the weekday hourly rates have been shaved by about $4 an hour.
A range of publicans have told InDaily that public holiday trading is now off their agenda, with Australia Day the first in the firing line.
- The Whalers Inn Resort in Encounter Bay has decided to close on all public holidays, starting with Australia Day.
- The Seven Stars in the city will likewise close on Australia Day and is unlikely to open on Anzac Day.
City publican Gareth Lewis, whose businesses include the Kings Head pub and Jack Ruby’s, told InDaily he will also close all his businesses on public holidays.
- AHA boss Ian Horne says while the big pubs in the metropolitan area are still likely to open, smaller hotels and country hotels will be hit the hardest.
Horne told InDaily that those pubs that don’t close were likely to impose a holiday surcharge or employ fewer staff on public holidays.
About 600 pubs are now covered by the full provisions of the federal Hospitality Industry (General) Award, while about 100 are subject to an independent agreement with staff.
Horne said the federal award did not differentiate between different circumstances in different states. This meant that the Railway Hotel in Peterborough, for example, now pays the same rates of pay as the five-start Shangri La in The Rocks.
“South Australia can’t adapt its structures because we are locked in step with every other state,” he said.
“It’s a mess and no-one at any level can bring any sense to it.
“Things are very, very tough out there. We already have the highest cost structures of any state; we have stagnant population growth.”
He said a lot of pubs were still working out the full impact of the new rates on public holiday trading, while some businesses had already made the decision to close.
One of those is Gareth Lewis, who told staff two weeks ago that his businesses would no longer trade on public holidays.
“It is a shame that we have spent the past six and a half years focused on keeping the hotel open on public holidays to provide a service to the local residents only to now have our hand forced,” he said.
“The overwhelming sentiment in the industry is ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’. Public holidays (and Sundays) have never been a profit-making day in the city and the wage hike just adds insult to an industry that is already burdened with so many overheads and taxes.”
Seven Stars publican Tom Ricketts said he had opened on Australia Day in the past but the penalty rate increase meant it was no longer viable.
He said the loss of Adelaide’s traditional Australia Day international cricket match had also impacted on his decision.
“Australia Day is certainly not a busy trading day and certainly doesn’t warrant opening any more,” he said.
He was still pondering whether it would be worth opening on Anzac Day.
“The ramification for a small business like mine is that we will probably shut on all public holidays.
“Doubling my wages bill takes it off the board. I’m not a big believer in passing the costs on to the customer, either.”
Whalers owner and chef Allister Parker tells a similar story, saying he has decided to shut his Encounter Bay complex on every public holiday.
“It’s just not financially viable unless we charge a surcharge,” he said, adding that he did not believe customers would be happy to pay extra.
“It’s one of those double-edge things. Do you open on the public holidays as a service or do you keep it strictly business and only open when it’s financially possible?”
The union that covers hospitality workers, United Voice, is skeptical that many pubs will close.
However, like many publicans, it isn’t a fan of the newly imposed federal award.
The union’s David Gray told InDaily that the new award cut wages for staff overall, and United Voice would be happy to negotiate enterprise bargaining agreements with more pubs.
“Salaried staff and management work weekends to avoid higher rates and the award employees work Monday to Friday with significant wage cuts,” he said. “Therefore publicans are sucking from both ends of the sauce bottle.”
Publicans agreed that staff were likely to suffer as a result of public holiday closing.
Lewis said staff were happy with the old arrangement.
“Whilst I don’t disagree in principle with penalties – I am, in fact, a member of a union myself – the reality is 95% of staff were very happy with the old arrangement of a flat rate across all hours, as so many of them are students and are only available to work weekends, nights and public holidays,” he said.
“They will be the ones who lose out most. With the rate for a standard bartender rising to $51.25 per hour and duty manager or chef to $57.39 on public holidays, it becomes not viable for us to open.”
Ricketts also expressed disappointment that his staff would lose out on both ends – a decrease in weekday rates and, with the public holiday closures, a failure to recoup those losses with increased penalty rates.
The award had also introduced unwanted complications.
“For us it has really just complicated something that we didn’t feel was a problem in the first place,” he said.
The award modernisation is a federal process led by the Fair Work Commission.
In 2009, most of the states, including South Australia, handed over their industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth.
Since then, SA hospitality workers have been covered by transitional arrangements. Those arrangements ended on January 1, 2015.