Staff wages are a heavy weight to pay during disaster

CYCLONE CHALLENGES: Denison Boutique Hotel manager Samantha Cook.
CYCLONE CHALLENGES: Denison Boutique Hotel manager Samantha Cook. Allan Reinikka Rokawages

ROCKHAMPTON'S Samantha Cook remembers all too well the financial strain employees' wages had on the business she managed during Cyclone Marcia.

For the four days after Marcia struck the region on February 20, Denison Boutique Hotel was powerless and nonoperational.

But that didn't stop the need for employees to be paid their standard wages whilst the business was out of action.

A media report yesterday said one of the controversial reccommendations proposed in the government's Productivity Commission review was that "wages should be cut during cyclones or droughts to help businesses retain staff."

"The Fair Work Commission has considered submissions from several industry groups seeking exceptional circumstances deferrals or exemptions in relation to a range of natural disasters including droughts, floods and cyclones," the report said.

Samantha, the manager of the hotel, said she strongly agreed with the idea of cutting costs during a natural disaster.

"At the time of Marcia I had three casual employees, a full time employee and myself on a salary whilst the business wasn't making a profit," she said.

"Fortunately I only had one other full time employee that required payment for the four days but it was still a huge effect on the weekly takings.

"I think wages should be reduced by a percentage during the time a business is closed as a result of a natural disaster. I don't agree that wages should be cut completely as some people heavily rely on their weekly wage."

Samantha, 24, said recovering from Cyclone Marcia was a slow and expensive process.

"Along with wages that you have to pay staff during the closure, you also have costs of the clean-up and repairs," she said.

"The clean up after Marcia was big and paying for those services would have been easier if wages had been capped for the four days. Every cent counts when it comes to financially recovering from an event like Marcia and then preparing for a few months of low tourism rates as a result.

"If we had of been closed for longer than four days it would have taken us a couple of months to get back on our feet. Being on the outskirts of the CBD we are in a high risk area at flood times, in 2011 we were closed for a month."

For local girl Amber Aisthorpe, the week following the cyclone was a tough one as an employee.

Amber, 17, was working at a cafe at the time and was off work for a week.

"I had a whole week off work without pay," she said.

"Although it was hard because I still had weekly expenses like rent and my phone bill, I didn't expect to be paid because I wasn't working and I think you should only get paid for the work you do. My mum also owns her own business and it would be unfair for her to have to fork out money for wages when she's not making money herself so I completely understood when I wasn't paid."

Productivity Commission:

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians. Its role is to help governments make better policies, in the long term interest of the Australian community.

The Commission's independence is underpinned by an Act of Parliament.

Topics:  business finance wages

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