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Trading hours are retailers’ business

closed,signThe NSW Government is considering allowing more retailers to open on Boxing Day.

Maybe someone can assist, how did they originally decide who can open on Boxing Day and who cannot? Why do they allow some and not others and, why are they now reconsidering?

What has changed? Was part of it because they wanted workers to have time off with their families? If so, why have the sales folk at David Jones in Sydney’s CBD been denied this while others haven’t?

We even have the esteemed Reverend Fred Nile now weighing in on this topic which is quite odd given that Boxing Day is not a religious holiday.

As times have changed, so have retail working hours. There was a time when stores opened Monday to Friday from 8.30am until 5.00pm and from 8.30am until 1.00pm on Saturdays. That was it. In fact some stores used to close from 1.00pm to 2.00pm for lunch! There were no penalty rates. One either worked full time or part time. Once everyone started trading during lunchtime, part time work came in. Part time was usually from 10.00am to 2.00pm to cover lunch hours. Full timers usually took lunch from noon to 1.00pm or 2.00pm to 3.00pm.

So why do Governments get involved in hours of work at all? Leave it to retailers to sort it out. And theologians please stick to your business.

It is really a question of personal choice. Workers should decide when they want to work and retailers should decide when they want to open. The large shopping centres make it mandatory for stores to open at prescribed hours and as we approach Christmas, these hours are more or less arbitrarily changed to suit the shopping centres. Whether the retailers run at a loss during these extended hours is just bad luck.

However there is a growing movement among certain of our clients to defy the landlords if it means that they will lose money by opening silly hours. One only needs a few to break ranks and the floodgates can open so the landlords tend to play the cards close to their chests.

The freedom of choice is no more transparent than with two pharmacies. One opens seven days a week as follows: 8.00am to 7.00pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm on a Saturday and 8.30am to 12.30pm on a Sunday. A total of 67 hours a week. They do incredibly well and sustain three owners plus a dozen or more staff. The owners roster themselves and everyone seems happy.

The flip side is another pharmacy that opens 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday – a total of 40 hours or 60 per cent of the hours of the other pharmacy. There is one proprietor, Archie, and she hires a locum if she needs to be away. Archie has made a life balance choice and is perfectly happy.

Then there is Phillip who owns a tiny coffee cafe. He sells a few cakes but his coffee is the best. He doesn’t work in the business but has a number of capable staff. The shop is open Monday to Friday and Saturday morning. Phillip sells over 750 cups of coffee a day out of this ‘hole in the wall’ cafe. I estimate that his turnover is about $20,000 a week. Margins are high. Philip is a 50 year old hippy surfer without a worry in the world. He is happy with five and a half days a week.

It is high time that governments, retail trade associations, shopping centre managers, trade unions and ministers of religion butt out and allow retailers to open whatever hours they wish and allow workers to work whatever hours they choose.

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at stuart@impactretailing.com.au or 0414 631 702.

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