Bill Shorten

Penalty rates: New poll suggests 65 per cent of Australians want protection laws

Labor and the coalition are at odds over the penalty rates decision in hospitality and retail as new polling shows a majority of workers disapprove of a cut.

The coalition is hitting out at a Labor campaign over penalty rates as new polling shows voters in some of the country's most marginal seats want the government to protect them.

The political fallout from the Fair Work Commission's decision to reduce Sunday rates to those of Saturday in the hospitality, retail and fast food sectors has dominated the parliamentary week.

ReachTEL polling, conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, shows more than 62 per cent of Australians disapprove of the decision and 65 per cent want the government to pass legislation to protect penalty rates.

The survey of more than 3500 residents included the electorates of Corangamite, Dawson, Page, and Leichhardt.

"These poll results show politicians must act on behalf of the majority of voters and put new laws in place to protect take home pay of the lowest paid workers," ACTU president Ged Kearney said on Friday.

The government has been trying to paint the decision as pro-jobs, insisting businesses will hire more workers once their wages bills decrease.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne rejected criticism of the government's response and accused Labor of using the issue to distract from issues like high electricity prices.

He insisted the commission recommends the change to Sunday rates be phased in over two years.

"As the minimum wage rises for those workers, that would cover any losses they might have because of the changes to penalty rates," he told the Nine Network.

Labor isn't giving up its fight to protect worker's take-home pay, despite Bill Shorten unsuccessfully seeking to bring in and pass a bill to protect penalty rates on Thursday.

"This is about a pay cut for some of Australia's lowest income earners," frontbencher Anthony Albanese said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott offered his government some advice on how to respond to the opposition's attacks.

"Against Labor's pitch of 'high wages' versus 'low wages', we need to pitch 'high wages' versus 'no wages'," he told The Australian.

"The issue is not higher wages versus lower wages. It's about making it possible for more businesses to stay open because if the business is shut no one gets paid anything."

Liberal senator and former workplace minister Eric Abetz believes the pay rates of existing workers should be protected while the new rates apply only to new employees.

The opposition claims up to 700,000 will be affected by the decision, but the government says it is as few as 285,000.

The Fair Work Commission says it does not know how many people will be affected.

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