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Penalty rates stopping businesses from opening after hours

Should businesses be open outside 9am-5pm?
Should businesses be open outside 9am-5pm? Nicholas Falconer

ON Christmas Day, in a Noosa street jam-packed with tourists, only six of 19 restaurants in iconic Hastings St were open for business.

That's a situation Hastings Street Association head, Berardo's Restaurant proprietor and Noosa International Food and Wine Festival director Jim Berardo says benefits no one.

And it's why a National Restaurant Symposium ahead of this year's festival in May will explore the challenges for the future for the Australian industry and those who work in it.

Industry representatives, federal politicians, large business chain CEOs and commentators will gather in Noosa for a two-day talk fest that will address everything from industrial relations to the proposed GST on fresh food and rising utility costs.

Mr Berardo said the number of full-time employees in his business had fallen from 45 to 15 over the past three to four years because of award changes that failed to recognise the nature of the restaurant business.

"Most everyone would say Australia stands strong by having a stronger middle class," he said.

"We need to maintain that by paying fair wages. That way, we can employ people for a profession."

But he said there needed to be recognition that outside the capital cities there were different "normal" times of business than Monday to Friday, nine to five.

He said there needed to be a more flexible system that allowed employer and employee to enter contracts that gave one greater job security and the other the chance to extend the hours of business.

Mr Berardo acknowledged there would always be some who would look to exploit whatever system was in place but the vast majority of the industry should not suffer for that.

He said the introduction of the fringe benefit tax had killed the corporate lunch, meaning customers - particularly in regional areas - ate out only at night, on weekends and public holidays.

"Small business can't afford to pay staff $55 an hour, but that's what's happening,'' Mr Berardo said.

Rather than having businesses closed at times they should logically be open and employees struggling to meet mortgages working casually a couple of days a week, both needed to meet in the middle to find a better way.

Penalty rates are not the only concern for an industry where utility costs have sky-rocketed.

Rent demands a greater share of revenue and pop-ups and other dining options were severely testing it just as it had won global recognition.

The National Restaurant Symposium, Facing Today's Challenges For the Future of the Australian Restaurant Industry and its Professionals, will be held in Noosa on May 14-15.

Topics:  hospitality penalty rates


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