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Casual workers receive pay raise ahead of busy Christmas period

More than 350,000 casual workers will see higher penalty rates on Saturdays and weeknights this Christmas season, thanks to the decision reached by The Fair Work Commission last Friday.

Casual workers will receive a 25 per cent penalty rate increase, compared with the 10 per cent currently afforded, bringing their rates in line with those of their permanent co-workers, who already enjoy this benefit.

The commission noted that the current casual rates for Monday to Friday evening work and Saturday work “lack logic and merit”.

The changes are set to come into effect as of November 1, just in time for the busiest retail period of the year.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) national secretary Gerard Dwyer welcomed the decision, heralding it as a major win that would benefit hundreds of thousands of retail workers.

“This will result in significant pay increases for over 350,000 hard-working retail employees on the [Retail] Award and will have important flow effects for employees on enterprise bargaining agreements right across Australia’s retail sector,” Dwyer said.

“These measures go some way to addressing the unjust treatment of casual workers under the Award, who are not properly compensated for the absence of sick pay, annual leave and the insecurity of work.”

Dwyer went on to note that Australians needed a pay rise, not a pay cut, and that business needed to get on board.

Small retailers hit the hardest

However, the National Retail Association slammed the decision to “slug Australia’s embattled retailers” with a wage hike so close to the busiest trade period of the year.

“Many retailers across the country have been confronting an extraordinarily challenging period throughout 2018, which has been reflected in the latest ABS release for retail sales,” NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said.

“Small retailers in particular are already struggling with soaring electricity costs and increasing wholesale prices… the retail sector is about to enter its busiest part of the year – the Christmas trade period – and the last thing they need is to be hamstrung with further costs.”

Lamb went on to add that there was no point in giving a casual worker a pay rise if it resulted in shifts being reduced or cut altogether.

“At the moment, the money simply isn’t there to be asking small business owners to fork out more cash on wages,” Lamb said.

Questions over Christmas trade

The timing of the rate hike is difficult to ignore, with the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) noting that retailers will have to rethink their Christmas trading strategy as a result of the decision.

“Christmas trade is the biggest trading season for retailers, and these increases to casual workers’ pay on Saturdays and weekday evenings will certainly impact on trading hours around the country,” ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said.

“Retailers usually thrive during the Christmas period, however this year, I’m concerned many retailers will bear the brunt of an unjust and detrimental decision. Casual staff are the lifeblood of the retail industry, and instead of seeing our retailers shine this Christmas, we will see them undertake more pressure and have to make serious decisions about their Christmas trade.”

With even large retailers, such as David Jones and Myer, looking to the Christmas period’s increased trade to turn around a disruptive and difficult year, the news of increased staff costs is likely to cause concern throughout the industry.

Additionally, as of Monday 1st October, casual workers who have worked for an employer for a minimum of one year will now be able to apply to become permanent.

“For too long some businesses have used casual work as a substitute for decent secure jobs at the expense [of] workers and their families,” Dwyer said.

“Permanent work guarantees workers access to paid sick leave and pail annual leave and removes the very real risk of employers cutting shifts at the last minute, which obviously has a huge impact on people’s ability to plan their lives and manage their finances.”

Dwyer noted that is not compulsory – a worker who wishes to retain their casual status can choose to do so – but affords the option and makes it an enforceable minimum award right.

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