Retail struggle in January 2020

With COVID-19 restrictions being gradually lifted across most states, retailers who had been forced to shut their doors are beginning to reopen. The struggle is far from over, but hopefully this does indicate that the worst is behind us.

Just yesterday, the National Retail Association hosted a Town Hall webinar with Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Skills, Employment, Small and Family Business. The webinar, attended by more than one hundred retailers, featured a great discussion surrounding JobKeeper, business-led initiatives to increase employment, and the three step framework to a COVIDSafe economy. You can watch the webinar here.

The webinar also saw the launch of the National Retail Association “Roadmap to Retail Recovery” document. This comprehensive guide compiles resources and information to assist you with re-emerging from the social distancing restrictions, from getting your business operational to re-engaging your customers.

Roadmap to Retail Recovery Plan

To ascertain a rough dollar figure on the impact COVID-19 has had on our membership, we conducted a survey which was used as part of our Annual Wage Review Submission in Reply. Based off the results we estimate that NRA members lost $1 billion in the month of March alone. Unsurprisingly, 95 per cent of respondents indicated they had been negatively affected by the current pandemic.

Subsequently, our submission to the Fair Work Commission recommends that the current minimum wage level is maintained. We want all retail workers to be paid a healthy wage, but we also want to keep them in a job. Any added costs to most businesses in the current environment simply cannot be afforded.

We also used the FWC submission to make specific comment on the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme. Although many businesses have expressed satisfaction with the program, feedback we have received is that those of you who employ a large portion of casual workers are not finding it as beneficial.

The way the scheme is designed means that businesses with a significant cohort of casual employees are having to endure a giant jump in their weekly labour costs. This comes all at a time when we’re experiencing the worst worldwide economic turmoil in 100 years.

This has resulted in those of you who don’t see JobKeeper as an appropriate mechanism instead turning to the more modest grant schemes administered by respective State Governments. The Government has already amended the program and we’d urge them to pay close attention to this issue to find a solution that sees casual workers compensated in a manner that does not jeopardise the business they work for.

The Government has also announced plans to review JobKeeper at the end of June, potentially winding back it’s initial six-month life span. Currently the payments are legislated to continue until the end of September. We are calling on all of you to provide your feedback on this plan, so that we can feed your perspectives through to the Government.

Meanwhile, last Friday the National Cabinet announced a three-step framework for the roadmap to a COVIDSafe economy. We are pleased to note that the road map aims for a shift from crisis to recovery by July 2020. The goal is to restore 850,000 jobs in the months ahead. This framework should provide the confidence for you, and your customers, that is needed to reboot the economy while operating in a safe manner.

The timeline for reopening the economy will ultimately be determined by each state and territory government. Information on what specific restrictions remain in place in each jurisdiction can be found on the NRA website.

All the best for the week and keep well.