Students face pay cuts: what the recent penalty rate cuts mean for students

1 March 2017

The Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates for workers on Sundays and public holidays has caused stress and disruption for students.

Full time, part time and casual employees from the retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy sectors will face varying degrees of pay cuts.

For example, a casual retail employee is currently paid double their base rate on a Sunday. This will decrease to 1.75 times the base rate, once the rate cuts come into effect. If you are a casual employee of a fast food chain, you can expect your Sunday rate to decrease from 1.75 times your base rate, to 1.5 times, or time and a half.

Cuts to public holiday pay will mainly effect part time and full time workers, decreasing from 2.5 times to 2.25 times their base rate, with casuals set to earn 2.5 times their base rate on a public holiday.

The changes to public holiday pay will come into effect on 1 July, with Sunday pay cuts expected to be implemented within a year.

University of Melbourne student Mary* is concerned about the impending pay cuts.

“Sundays are a good shift for me, it’s a day when I can work long hours and rely on getting more. Working on Sundays is also a big sacrifice.”

For Mary, who works in a fresh food market, her workplace is already understaffed on the weekends.

“They won’t hire any more people with their Sunday savings. They’re too stingy for that.”

The Fair Work Commission hopes the cuts will lead to increased opening hours on Sundays and public holidays, and help small businesses around the country.

“Those people who believe they are going to be affected may well find, I believe they will find, they will be offered extended hours,” Russell Zimmerman of the Australian Retailers Association said in a press conference last week.

For University students heading back to full-time study this month, increasing their working hours could cause disruption to their grades and financial situation.

Arts student at the University of Melbourne, Julian Virgona works in the retail sector and is also one of those effected by the cuts.

“I’m often rostered on a Saturday and Sunday as I have university during the week. These cuts completely alter my income,” he told Farrago.

“The main reason I am motivated to work on a Sunday or public holiday is because of the increased pay. Good luck managing to convince students to spend the day working instead of relaxing or studying when they’re getting paid a lower amount,” he said.

For students studying full time and living out of home, cuts to their pay could have serious consequences when trying to pay rent, as well as other bills.

Michael Aguilera is one of those students. Sunday and public holiday penalty rates assist him in paying rent, as well as affording him some other luxuries, such as eating out.

The cuts to his Sunday pay have come as a blow, heading into full time study this year at the University of Melbourne.

“I’ll be able to pay my rent, but I had to drop back to three subjects because it was getting too full on,” Michael told Farrago.

“I have to spend more time at work that I would be using on other things, study or internships or socialising.”

According to Michael, the cuts to pay represent a more pressing issue than simply taking money out of his pocket.

“For me, penalty rates signify a level of respect towards those that have to work unhealthy hours ­– after 12 a.m. on weekdays, or give up their weekends,” he said.

“Without penalty rates for these part time and student jobs, we are being asked to do everything while getting a further kick in the teeth.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the source.

For more information on penalty rate cuts, and how you may be affected by the decision, please visit