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Calls to define ‘essential retail’ reignite

Retail associations have asked for clarity around what counts as ‘essential service’ after two major retailers became listed as casual contact locations for an active Covid-19 case.

The JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman stores in Westfield Bondi Junction were visited on Friday 25 by a person who later tested positive, which has reignited the debate around what constitutes an essential service.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said allowing any retailer to remain open was a practical decision, and asked the community to apply “common sense”, according to the AFR.

“Practically it is impossible to define essential retail, because clearly if you’ve just relocated house and you have nothing with you, getting some bath towels and products are essential,” Chant said.

“We’re saying [only] go out for essential goods.”

Chant noted, however, that many retailers will close since, due to the current public health order which has left Sydneysiders locked at home, there are no customers for retailers to sell to.

ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said a nationally consistent approach would be prudent, as retailers are now currently dealing with multiple lockdowns across the country with differing trading and movement restrictions.

“Confusion reigns whenever restrictions are announced. This adds time and further cost for retailers and food operators on top of the heavy impact they already wear on last retail trade,” Zahra said.

“A year and a half into this pandemic, there is no excuse for this confusion… we must have national harmonisation on what triggers a lockdown, and what is defined as essential and non-essential retail.”

According to The Guardian, Bernie Smith, the NSW secretary of the retail union SDA, agreed that the public health order needs to be more specific as it is putting workers at risk.

“People in insecure work may be tempted to turn up to work because they cannot financially afford to stay home,” Smith said.

“This is a choice no worker should have to make… All retailers must put employee safety first in determining whether they should open or not.”

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