Australian diners could be in for a shock at the counter this Sunday. The Australian Fair Work Commission has slashed the wages of those working on weekends in a number of sectors, but not in restaurants or cafés. This has led to a number of high-profile restaurants, such as Chin Chin in Melbourne, adding 10 or 15 per cent surcharges to diners’ bills. Public Holiday surcharges are not uncommon throughout New Zealand, but it is Australia’s unique ‘weekend penalty’ laws which have resulted in this situation.

Under previous labour laws, employees who worked on weekends could be paid up to 250% of their wage – double time and a half. However, an investigation by the Fair Work Commission decided that these penalties created undue pressure on businesses and recommended the changes, which will be introduced in July and slowly phased in over time. While changes affect the retail, fast food and hospitality industries, the changes did not extent to restaurants and cafés as industry representatives did not provide a compelling enough case to convince the Commission of the necessity of the changes. The industry is being given another opportunity to state their case.

John Hart, Chief Executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, argued that restaurants had to act after being overlooked in the rate cut. “There was no relief for the restaurant sector,” he said, suggesting that businesses had been holding back on adding surcharges for years, and the Fair Work Commission changes were the final straw. “There is still a very high cost base for Sunday penalty rates and even a surcharge of 40 to 50 per cent would not cover the additional cost of employing staff on a Sunday.”