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When Felicia Mariani migrated to Australia from the United States in 1993 she was “shocked and appalled” that she couldn’t go to the supermarket on Sunday. Yet she came to appreciate the change of pace. “Every Sunday we’d take drives to [the country] and have a lovely day on the road and we’d come home for dinner on a Sunday night. You really had that sense of a weekend break with the family.”
But Australia has moved on and even though Mariani occasionally misses those leisurely weekends, it’s another era. As the managing director of the Australian Tourism Export Council , Mariani says it’s a “24/7/365 world” and Australia cannot afford to operate “9-to-5, five days a week”.
But with Australia’s “archaic” – and expensive – weekend and public holiday penalty rate system, Mariani says that’s the impression we are in danger of giving to overseas visitors.
Capital city restaurants, cafes and bars – the places international tourists like to visit – are feeling the strain of standardised penalty rates introduced under the Fair Work Act.
“The current [wages] structure is not sustainable. People are going to start shutting things down on weekends and public holidays because they can’t afford the cost of operating,” she says.
As a global destination, Mariani warns that Australia cannot afford to have a labour system that is “fundamentally at odds” with the cosmopolitan image that we present to the world.
“No one is disrespecting the challenge of working on a weekend but this is our industry, it’s seven days a week. If we’re going to ask people to travel considerable distances to spend money here and then visitors can’t find a place to eat on a Sunday night, that’s simply not sustainable.”
Mariani says it is no longer realistic to base weekend penalty rates on the image of the weekend being a time of rest with friends and family. “I don’t buy the concept of the sacrosanct weekend. The weekends now are just as busy as weekdays,” she says. “We need to operate as a world city and recognise how the rest of the world is operating.”