Ian Winterburn | National Retail

The media attention surrounding the 7-Eleven chain last year was a wake-up call for the entire retail industry. At the time, the National Retail Association urged all retailers to ensure they understood and were actively complying with their obligations to employees in relation to pay rates and conditions.

This week the former head of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, Professor Allan Fels, sounded another warning for retailers. In an interview with Robert Gottliebsen, in The Australian, Professor Fels expressed his belief that “there are a number of other businesses where people are turning a blind eye to the fact that it’s going on at franchisee or other levels”. You can read the full article here.

Now I want to say at the outset that I disagree with the dim view he takes of ethics among retail employers. It’s understandable that Professor Fels may have grown cynical during his lengthy term as the nation’s business watchdog, where he would only have been exposed to the worst aspects of business behaviour. However, I think it’s tenuous (and thoroughly unfair) to accuse the entire retail sector of putting self interest above obeying the law.

My lengthy experience – as a retailer and with the NRA – tells me that the overwhelming majority of employers do the right thing by employees, and when the rules are difficult or confusing they err on the side of benefiting their team members. So I think we can take the blanket criticism of business ethics with a grain of salt. Where I do think the retail sector should be paying attention to Professor Fels is on the question of whether there are many more examples of employers not paying their employees the right amounts.

We have often spoken about how difficult it can be for small business owners to understand fully their obligations under the extensive and complicated workplace relations regime, and to ensure they are complying with every requirement. It is a highly complex environment, and it is easy to make mistakes.

That’s one of the reasons the NRA exists. As Australia’s largest and most diverse retail industry organisation, we have the resources and know-how to understand the laws, and to help you apply them to your business.

NRA has recently consolidated its expertise into a single national advice line, which is available to provide free assistance to members to help you ensure you are complying with all your responsibilities as an employer.

By having a dedicated, in-house law firm, the NRA can ensure that your sensitive information remains confidential within your association, rather than being provided to a third-party law firm for fee-for-service advice.

And because NRA Legal specialises in retail-related law, you can be sure that our experts will give you the most recent and most expert advice available. NRA legal is also able to provide expert advice to non-members of the association on a competitive commercial basis. Don’t risk serious penalties or negative publicity from getting your employment arrangements wrong. If you’re unsure, give them a call on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245).

Ian Winterburn, CEO and Deputy Chairperson