Retail struggle in January 2020

I’ll begin this week’s CEO column by extending the thoughts of the entire NRA family to our members located in flood-affected areas across Queensland and New South Wales. In the past 15 months, some of you have had to contend with bushfires and floods as well as the first pandemic in 100 years. The New South Wales Government has already announced disaster recovery assistance and we will keep you all updated on any further announcements from either the Queensland or Federal Governments. But in the meantime, all of you operating in flooded areas keep safe and look out for one another.

Last week also saw the Senate finally pass the Morrison Government’s contentious industrial relations Bill. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the victory the NRA was hoping for. As many of you would have seen reported, to obtain the necessary crossbench support the government had to gut no less than four of its five key reforms from the legislation.

While the one aspect that did pass, clarifying the legal definition of casual work, is welcomed it’s disappointing that many other crucial issues remain unaddressed. In particular, injecting greater flexibility into the modern awards and enterprise bargaining would have helped many businesses more confidently navigate the challenging period ahead. As mentioned last week, business and industry associations such as the NRA had already compromised on numerous aspects of the Bill. Australia is still far from out of the woods and with JobKeeper soon ending we can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to safeguarding jobs.

Evidently, if our Federal Parliament has any lessons to teach us this week, it is that we can also not afford to be complacent in our workplaces. Time and time again you hear the NRA shedding light on the experiences of young retail workers throughout the country. We know from the SDA’s 2019 survey into sexual harassment that 39% of retail workers report being sexually harassed – 60% of these individuals were female and aged between 18 and 34. A staggering 57% experienced sexual harassment on more than one occasion, with only 25% reporting the harassment to their employer. These statistics are startling and concerning. It is a very good reminder for us all to check in with our employees and ensure that they feel secure enough to report these instances to us as their employers.

The ABS retail figures for February, released last Friday, reflect a drop in Nationwide turnover by 1.1 per cent for the entire month. Victoria and Western Australian implementing hard lockdowns in February no doubt contributed to this result, but it would also appear that the high levels of discretionary spending are finally starting to decline. Following the initial nationwide lockdown last March and April, consumers had been happy to spend the stockpiled amounts of cash they had accrued. With Jobkeeper and the Coronavirus Supplement also about to end, it would be truly extraordinary if we didn’t see a further drop in consumer spending.

It should be pointed out that although there was a decline in sales between January and February, the 2021 results for the second month of the year were still 8.7 per cent above 2020’s performance. While we shouldn’t be hitting the panic button, we also have to appreciate we’re still a while off from ‘life as normal’. It’s still a real possibility that we will continue to see the economy fluctuate until a full rollout of the vaccine has occurred. The NRA will continue to engage governments at all levels on the need to carefully monitor the performance of Australia’s second-largest workforce and advocate on behalf of you all.

All the best for the week ahead.