Commission calls for 'rigorous examination' of penalty rates

THE Productivity Commission has opened the door to a major penalty rates battle, calling for a "rigorous examination" of the issue, including potentially deregulating penalty rates.

The examination was called for in a series of working papers to be released on Friday as part of a wide-ranging review of Australia's industrial relations system.

While Employment Minister Eric Abetz has said "everything is on the table" in the inquiry, the union movement has used the inquiry to urge the government to hold off on four bills to change workplace laws already before parliament.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions national secretary Dave Olive wrote to Senator Abetz and asked him to withdraw the reforms in light of "multiple, overlapping and ongoing inquiries" including the Heydon Royal Commission and the commission's inquiry.

"It is our strong view that proceeding with the bills now, in advance of the inquiries being finalised, is a deeply flawed public policy process, a waste of taxpayers' resources and the Senate's time," he wrote.

However, Sen Abetz previously said the government would not abandon the bills, as it was an election promise.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday also hit out at the ACTU's call, saying the letter was a "shameless and transparent ploy" by unions to "protect their vested interests".

The commission's working paper on penalty rates has called for input from businesses, unions and policy experts.

The paper says "analysis that will contribute to a rigorous examination of the issues" is needed.

The paper also argued that "several policy approaches" would be considered, including whether or not "regulated penalty rates are an inherent element ... necessary to protect employee's interests".

It also called for input on the potential for penalty rates to be deregulated, "with less or no role by the regulator".

"Any premiums for weekend and evening work would then be market-determined, and might vary over time, place, occupations, industries and businesses," it read. The commission is also considering visiting regional areas.

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