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Following the long weekend, retail groups including the National Retail Association (NRA) and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) told Inside Retail PREMIUM there also needs to be more consistency to the scheduling of public holidays across the country.
Over the long weekend opening hours on public holidays varied across all states and territories. Shops were closed in NSW on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, while retailers in Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania were allowed to trade Easter Saturday through to Easter Monday.
There were no restrictions (including Good Friday) for retailers in the ACT and the Northern Territory. In South Australia, only those in the CBD were allowed to trade, however, Monday was restricted to 11am to 5pm.
General retail shops in Perth metropolitan in Western Australia were permitted to trade Easter Saturday through to Easter Monday, however, retailers outside of the CBD were only allowed to open on Saturday.
Trevor Evans, CEO of the NRA, told Inside Retail PREMIUM that outside of the major chains, more than half of the NRA’s members in the small and independent space close over public holidays, including the Easter weekend.
Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the ARA, said excessive penalty rates not only hurt business owners, but also impact the shopping experience.
“Penalty rates must be addressed to allow businesses to respond to their customer’s needs, rather than having to try to fit their allocation of labour to an antiquated system. Times have changed and penalty rates must keep pace with the modern retail industry,” Zimmerman said.
Last month, lobby groups including the ARA and the Master Grocers Australia (MGA)/ Liquor Retailers Australia (LRA) association put forward submissions to the Productivity Commission (PC) in its review of the Workplace Relations Framework, with both calling for a review of penalty rates.
Penalty rates previously varied by state for Sunday and public holidays, but the past five years has seen a national overhaul, with all states and territories now operating under the modern awards rate.
The ARA and the MGA/LRA say they don’t want to see penalty rates scrapped entirely, instead, they are seeking the current Sunday penalty rate to be lowered from 100 per cent of the normal rate to 50 per cent. In its submission, the ARA states penalty rates should be “determined by an appropriate regulatory body with an appropriate regulatory frame”.
SA deal not a champagne moment
South Australia signed what was labelled a landmark deal to reduce penalty rates last month, however, Rick Cairney, policy director at Business South Australia, told Inside Retail PREMIUM the template agreement is merely an option for retailers, not a solution, which has so far received around 20 enquiries.
The deal, struck between the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and the South Australian Chamber of Commerce, offers SA retail workers a higher base pay rate and the ability to choose not to work weekends.
The agreement is said to cut penalty rates for Sundays from 100 per cent loading to 50 per cent, and reduces them on public holidays from 150 per cent to 100 per cent.
It gives workers a guaranteed three per cent annual pay rise and the right to refuse to work on the weekend, while permanent workers get the right to take every second weekend off.
“We’ve made this quite clear when this launched a few weeks ago, this is not a champagne moment. This is not the solution, this is really an option for retailers,” Cairney told Inside Retail PREMIUM.
He said that what is a significant milestone in the agreement is that the “SDA has acknowledged that penalty rates are an issue”.
“It’s good to see that a union is recognising this and something really has to be done. With South Australia’s high unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, which is three per cent higher than the national average, the retail sector is a major employer so what we’re trying to do is give them option.”
Evans says the agreement might work for some business, but it won’t automatically be a better solution for others.
“What’s important with [the agreement] is that you’ve finally got a union coming out and saying there are circumstances when penalty
rates don’t need to apply, and that penalty rates are something that can be negotiated. Previously, the approach of the union has been to say that penalty rates cannot be touched.
“It’s a tough road to get reform in any space at the moment in Australian politics, but the clear path forward following the South Australian deal is that businesses should take a fresh look at what they’re options might be in an enterprise agreement.”
Public holiday debate heats up
Christmas Day, Good Friday, and the morning of Anzac Day are all national public holiday days in Australia, however, there other holidays such as Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Boxing Day, Labour Day, and Anzac Day afternoon that are classified differently around the country.
In Victoria, the Melbourne Cup is also a public holiday, and earlier this year the State Government proposed AFL Grand Final Eve in September be a new public holiday for Victoria.
“I think everyone is agreed that there is a need to have some public holidays. There’s no doubt that most of the shops, with exception to fuel and necessities, can be closed on Christmas Day, Good Friday, and the morning of Anzac Day for community and social reasons,” Evans said.
“On the other days, it is okay for the other states and territories to take a different approach, but they need to be careful with then taking the extra step of prohibiting shops to open on those days.
“They also need to be careful of how many public holidays they have in total. If those higher penalty rates are going to apply, most of the small and independent shops are going to stay closed and then a huge slice of the economy won’t function on those days.
“A huge amount of production, spending, consumption, and employment won’t take place as soon as you institute a public holiday, so it is a balancing act.
“Harmonisation is good, we’re okay with some of the states doing different things but when you get to the situation like we have in Victoria at the moment with so many public holidays and extra ones being suggested it’s probably going a little bit too far,” Evans said.
This story first appeared in Inside Retail PREMIUM issue 2040. To subscribe, click here.