Retail struggle in January 2020

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is currently considering an application by the SDA to reverse the final reduction to Sunday penalty rates in the General Retail Industry Award 2010, due to take effect from 1 July 2020 (tomorrow).

In addition to making a formal submission to the FWC opposing any change to the 2017 decision, the NRA has also led the charge in publicly advocating against the SDA application.

The NRA supports penalty rates that strike the right balance between fairness and affordability. Everyone (including those of you reading this) would love to be paid more for the job they do. But with COVID-19 hitting the Australian economy like a sledgehammer, a cautious approach that prioritises keeping people in jobs should be adopted.

If the SDA application is successful it would see Sunday retail workers paid more, but that assumes that they receive a Sunday shift to begin with. Given the economic turmoil that’s been inflicted on all industries, retail businesses are being forced to evaluate all current business expenses to remain profitable. Unfortunately, wage expenses are not immune from this and higher than needed Sunday penalty rates would only deter many of you from rostering more Sunday staff.

It should also be noted that other penalty rates have been increased since this decision was made in 2017.  We remain hopeful that the FWC will stick to the current arrangements and will notify all NRA members as soon as a decision is made.

Keeping on the IR front and tomorrow the NRA will partake in the first meeting of the Award Simplification working group. No other retail association has advocated more extensively on this matter than the NRA.

The Modern Awards are a confusing set of regulations that prove challenging for retailers to navigate at the best of times. In the current economic downturn, they also provide a barrier to employing people and a more simplified system is necessary to protect jobs.

The NRA looks forward to making a constructive contribution that culminates in a consensus amongst all other participating members of the working group. We will keep you updated when and where we can on progress being made in achieving a more streamlined system.

Meanwhile, the ABS released a report on Monday indicating an expected increase on purchases such as eating out and recreational activities. The sixth Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey found that Aussie shoppers are set to splash the cash on these items after months of being housebound due to lockdown restrictions.

A majority of respondents said they expected to increase spending on the following:

  • Recreational activities (74 per cent);
  • Eating out (74 per cent);
  • Private transport (73 per cent);
  • Personal care (70 per cent);
  • Childcare (66 per cent); and
  • Public transport (55 per cent).

Although not all the above are obviously directly related to retail, there will be a knock-on effect for our sector. For example, an increase in public transport spending would be due mostly to people returning to CBD located offices for work, in turn meaning retailers based in these areas should see an uptick in sales.

However, on the flip side the survey also revealed that consumers aren’t yet prepared to increase spending on household furnishings, clothing and footwear. A total of 52 per cent of respondents indicated they were not prepared to increase expenditure on these items as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Finally, the spike in infections in Victoria provides a sage reminder that Australia is not fully out of the woods on the health front regarding COVID-19. A second-wave would have an even more devastating impact on the economy, the reimposition of lockdown restrictions would exacerbate the already dramatic hit taken to retail. With the Victorian Government ramping up testing, hopefully the rise in infections is contained and restrictions continue to be lifted across both Victoria and all other jurisdictions.

All the best for the week and keep well.