Justin Grey: Congratulations on being named as the new CEO of the NRA. Is that something that had been in the planning for you since Trevor announced his decision to move into politics?
Dominique Lamb: No. I certainly wasn’t aware of it, if it was in the background. But we’ve been very, very lucky to have Ian Winterburn, our deputy chair, be interim CEO during the period where Trevor has been campaigning. But yes, it was very exciting news for me. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
JG: Did Ian not wish to take on the CEO role permanently?
DL: Ian has been retired for some time. He spent 27 years at [jewellery retailer] Wallace Bishop in Queensland, being their CFO, and he has, for quite some time, just been occupying himself with being on a number of boards, including ours and WorkCover Queensland. S it certainly wasn’t something he was looking to take up.
DL: We’re very excited for Trevor. In fact, if you’ve ever met Trevor, you would understand that he’s almost born to be in this role. We’re thrilled that the needs of retail are likely to have a bit of a voice in parliament, so that’s what we would hope would happen. This is a very exciting time for him, and we’re all waiting for him to be sworn in. It’s definitely a very good thing for retail, and even if he doesn’t have direct influence over certain portfolios, I’m sure that at least, retail will have a voice in parliament.
JG: How long have you been with the NRA and what was your role prior to joining the NRA?
DL: I have been with the NRA for eight months now – I took over the legal team in October of last year. Before that, I was in private practice, with Cooper Grace Ward in Queensland, and working within an industrial relations team. Prior to that, I was with the Australian Industry Group.
JG: It’s quite a step up to the CEO position after only eight months with the organisation. Are you looking forward to the challenges of the role?
DL: Absolutely. It definitely is going to be a challenge, especially getting to know all the members, because obviously we have quite a few – and such a diverse range of retailers across the board. I’m certainly looking forward to that challenge, and I’m excited to make my mark on the National Retail Association.
JG: Are there key things you’ve thought about implementing as the leader of the NRA?
DL: Absolutely. The NRA will continue to do its work, especially around holding the government to its agreements about the $1000 threshold on GST for online products. We’ll also, obviously, continue to advocate around trading hours, and allowing our members to operate their businesses when they need to, across some regional areas. My passion has been advocating for the government to allow for funding to educate employees around domestic violence, especially with the imminent, or expected imminent, inclusion of domestic violence leave in modern awards.
JG: Tell us Dominique about some of the current work that the NRA is doing for retailers…
DL: We are about to release our roster coster product, which is this wonderful new innovative platform, which has been designed by Rision. This is going to be a free product to our members, where they can basically put into this online platform information around rosters and it will produce the most productive result, and also flag with them they’ve got any compliance issues within that roster that they’re developing. We’re very excited to be launching that at the middle of this month.
JG: The NRA has commented lately on the 7-Eleven wages scandal and the ramifications from that. What are the latest views on that situation from the NRA?
DL: Yes. Obviously, compliance is quite difficult for employers throughout the country, and modern awards are quite complex to navigate. We certainly understand that the Fair Work Ombudsman intends to target a number of our franchise members in relation to investigations in the upcoming year, especially if they employ migrant workers. Whilst we support the Fair Work Ombudsman’s aims to educate, we would also hope that our members and anyone engaged in that compliance base is able to access modern awards in a way that they can understand, and implement in their businesses in the most cost-effective way.
That’s really been a concern of our member’s for some time, that there is increased regulation around what they have to do in order to operate a business and be compliant. Whilst we never support anybody treating employees unfairly, I think that there really is going to come a time where the government has to assist businesses in being able to manage the regulatory requirements that they have to operate within.
JG: The major supermarkets have had their issues with that sort of thing as well of late, dealing with the SDA unions. What sort of comment can you provide on things that they’re working through there?
DL: Look, I think that all employers have the right to make their own enterprise agreements, and negotiate those enterprise agreements in good faith. Whilst I haven’t been involved in any of what Coles and Woolworths have been dealing with with the SDA of late, those agreements, in my understanding of that legislation and litigation, is that look, they did engage in good faith bargaining, and they did develop an enterprise agreement. It’s really up to the commission to make a decision as to whether or not that is compliant with the better off overall test.
JG: What do you see as the key challenges for retailers at the moment, within the areas that you’re working in at the NRA?
DL: The biggest challenge for retailers at the moment is ultimately the cost of employing employees, and probably the flexibility in their work places. More and more we’re seeing retailers having to close their stores on Sundays because they just simply can’t afford to operate. I think what people forget is that our membership goes across anything from micro-business all the way to the top end of town. We just can’t treat small business the same way that we treat large business. Ultimately, as I said before, I think that there really needs to be some type of shift in actually assisting business in being productive so that they can employ more people.
JG: On that Sunday penalty rates, what is your dialogue with the state governments like? How is that progressing?
DL: Most of our dialogue around penalty rates has been around the modern award review. So we’ve put in place submissions around that. In terms of state governments, there are a number of grants that we’re aware of, in particular states, that have assisted employers in being able to put on more employees, which in turn has supplemented the cost of those penalty rates. We have ongoing conversations about the cost of business, and certainly at each state level, our experience is that the members are interested in hearing about that. But what reach they have within government obviously varies depending on who’s in where. But we’ll continue to agitate.
JG: A lot of retailers tell us that labour costs are one of their biggest difficulties along with property challenges – the cost of labor and having enough staff on to do customer service right. It remains to be seen what ways can be found to get around that.
DL: I think probably the best way around that, if you have the actual capabilities of doing it, is probably entering into an enterprise agreement if you can, to allow you to get that flexibility that you might need for that specific business. Aside from that, lots of our members are implementing the best course of action that they can. So in some cases they are employing family members. In other cases they are having quite senior staff on because they know that on a weekend they’re going to give the best customer service.
I think there has been an increase in that focus, because we’re certainly seeing more personal shoppers and very much more of a focus on quality. And even with spending, we’re seeing people spend more money on quality items, and they really expect that customer service. So we’d hope to see an improvement, but I think that business needs assistance, ultimately, in order to achieve those goals.
JG: And where is that assistance going to come from, do you think?
DL: I couldn’t really guess where the assistance would come from, but we would hope that, especially with the election now being over and the Coalition appearing to at least acknowledge the fact that businesses are suffering and the economy does need a boost, that we’re hoping to see more of that trickle down from the top, especially parts of the budget that was released prior to the election around training and reskilling, around youth. We would hope that a lot of that supplement would allow employers to employ more young workers and improve customer service.
JG: We ran a survey leading up to the election, and basically retailers told us that a Coalition win is the best outcome for retail. A lot of them also said that neither of the main parties really listen to the concerns of the retail industry, which it doesn’t really bode well. But we’d like to think that the Coalition will stand up and do something for retail in this term.
DL: Yeah. I think that we’re all hopeful about that. No one can really predict what the Coalition will do. We haven’t really seen too many actions being taken in the lead up to the election for obvious reasons, but what we are hopeful of is that we will have ministers that actually care about what retailers think, especially given how many people they employ in the country. We would expect that there should be some concern over, certainly, the spending that’s occurring and how that affects the economy.
JG: Where do you see the NRA sitting in terms of the other industry associations in Australia?
DL: I think that the best part about the National Retail Association, certainly in comparison to a number of associations, is the fact that we do provide in-house services to our members. Really, that gives our membership an edge, especially in relation to the industrial relations framework, because ultimately people that work for us don’t necessarily have to request leave to appear in certain circumstances. All of our trainers have got so many years experience in actually working in retail, which translates into your classroom, which you just don’t get anywhere else. Ultimately, the people that work at the National Retail Association genuinely have a passion and belief about retail, and they understand it. And I’m not aware of any other organisation that has that.
JG: What’s on the cards for the NRA in the near future and into next year?
DL: The NRA is probably going to really focus on its membership and adding value to its members. It, more than I think anyone, understands how difficult businesses are doing it at the moment, and that they really need that value add in their membership. So our focus is really going to be on touching base with each of them individually, and working out what it is that retailers want to change within government and what services that they require. Basically, we’re looking to add value and to help them practice within their business as best they can.
JG: How is NRA membership at the moment? Is it growing? Are there certain sectors within retail that most the members are coming from?
DL: There are no certain sectors actually. It’s pretty broad in terms of the increases, but we are very happy to say that our membership is growing. We are certainly diversifying. Certainly, the 7-Eleven matter has increased parts of our membership, with franchising being a real focus in the upcoming year. Definitely, I think there’s more interest externally than what we’ve been used to, just because, regulation is becoming so difficult to manage as a business owner.