This bar owner is against cutting hospitality penalty rates

Charlie Lehmann, Ramblin' Rascal Tavern.
Charlie Lehmann, Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Opinion by Charlie Lehmann
Charlie is the co-owner of Sydney bar, Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern

They come in the night and they come in the day, faceless men and women, shuffling paper, carrying briefcases full of remarks, legislation, policy and guidelines that barely affect them but affect each and every bartender, barista, bussy and hospitality worker in the country.

The cutting of hospitality penalty rates has attacked the very pay packet we work our asses off for week in, week out. We have a love for our industry but feel we should be duly compensated for our services outside of the 5-day week, 9 to 5 bullshit.

I hear calls from some telling us to “get a different job if you don’t like the decision” on hospitality penalty rates. Right, because in this economic environment jobs are delivered to the doorstep of the share house I live in with five other people. And that’s because I’ve been priced out of the housing market, both to buy and rent, because those who made this decision on penalty rates just bought their fifth investment property.

It has become a blatant, sustained and systemic attack on the working and middle class in the name of productivity, with very little evidence to support the fact that it’ll boost employment or spur productivity.


The simple fact of the matter is, as we have progressed as a society our industries have grown and diversified. The hospitality industry has come leaps and bounds and is now in a gilded golden age, with bartenders pushing themselves and their drinks to new delectable heights, bars are opening and offering an experience, a sociable enterprise for their guests and not just a bar stool with ringing pokies in the background.

But it is with this progress that we have also witnessed a stagnation in wages relative to the cost of living. Hospitality employees, for a time, benefited from penalty rates to offset the high living costs of living in major cities but this has now been attacked and slashed and the reason we are so pissed off is because a man who earns $500,000 a year has decided that we earn too much.

The backlash from our industry has come from the fact that we have been made to look like villains from government with the implementation of lockout laws, at times lazy because the general public still view hospitality as “not a real job”, drunkards and louts because our environment is alcohol and ungrateful because we choose to stand up for what we believe is a fair wage. It’s a bit fresh coming from the $18 million worth of salary it took the justices and lawyers from Fair Work Australia to come up with this shit.

As an employer myself, the decision passed down yesterday should enamour our zeal for profit above all else, right? Instead I only foresee corporate greed at the sake of a living wage. It’s being flushed away so the top can kick back while we all struggle. Penalty rates as an employer are never great for overheads but it satisfies our employees so they can make a living. Fair Work Australia would’ve been better engaging in open discussion with the hospitality industry so we could create reform logical for employer and employee. Instead we get lawyers making decisions based on the fact that this one time they tipped the kid at Hubert $50 so they must be making a fine and dandy living.

Our approach [at Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern] to hospitality penalty rates will remain the same, if not reformed in-house, so as we are all happy with the outcome.

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