Retail struggle in January 2020

As we enter the final few weeks of a hectic year, there is no rest for retail.

Christmas shopping continues to go well across the country, thanks to consumer sentiment reaching a 10-year high. With Australians not descending across the world for holidays throughout summer, we are optimistic that discretionary spending will remain strong. The reopening of state borders, as well as the Queensland border to New Zealanders, should also see economic activity ramp up.

Needless to say, we hope that these promising developments are being reflected in business sales for each and every one of you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with feedback on how trade is going. How retail rebounds from this recession is going to have a strong influence on how the economy recovers generally. With JobKeeper and JobSeeker due to end early next year, all levels of government need to be aware if businesses are continuing to struggle or if there’s an uneven recovery amongst retailers.

Also, as discussed in last week’s column, the Attorney General Christian Porter has officially introduced an IR reform package to the Federal Parliament. The legislation seeks to provide clarity regarding casual employment, inject greater flexibility for part-time workers and reform enterprise bargaining arrangements.

Following months of engagement with the Federal Government as a participant in the IR working groups, the NRA is very supportive of the proposed laws. However, the Government does not have the numbers in the upper-house to pass the legislation and a senate committee will examine the Bill in the coming months. The AG has already flagged that he is prepared to make concessions, so it’s as good as certain that there will amendments when Parliament resumes in 2021.

The NRA will continue to make representations to the Government to ensure that key reforms are not omitted as part of the compromise process. A clear definition on what constitutes casual work is desperately needed and both workers and employers deserve clarity on this issue. An employee should have certainty over what entitlements they are eligible for and businesses can’t be hit with whopping backpay bills as they try to rebuild their business after a recession. A more flexible and agile General Retail Industry Award 2020 will also help businesses navigate the current environment, help keep people employed and create new jobs.

The Bill also includes tougher civil and criminal penalties for wage underpayments. Under the proposed laws, the maximum penalty for an employer found to deliberately underpay an employee is four years in jail and $1.1 million in fines. The NRA understands that this area is very complex and the Modern Awards do need to be simplified, however, stronger penalties will only mean that all retailers will need to go above and beyond to ensure they are complying with staff obligations.

We strongly urge all of you to familiarise yourselves with the proposed changes and what the new laws would mean for your business. And of course, the NRA is here to help you with this. You can contact a member of the NRA Legal team on 1800 RETAIL or you can book yourself in for our free webinar taking place tomorrow.

All the best for the week ahead.