A proposed change to the Public Holidays Act in the Northern Territory could see SMEs paying penalty rates on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The proposal, introduced to parliament yesterday by Minister for Public Employment Gerald McCarthy, would see two “half day” public holiday periods imposed between 7:00pm and midnight on the two days.
Currently the only public holidays for the Northern Territory during the Christmas period are Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day.
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner told media the measures would “make the territory an attractive place to work and live,” reports the ABC.
Gunner also said it was part of a bigger movement to tackle the population growth issues that are currently plaguing the Territory.
“It’s something I have been looking at as part of the population question confronting the NT,” Gunner said.
However, the move has been made without consultation with national retail bodies, with neither the National Retailers Association (NRA) nor the Australian Retail Association (ARA) being consulted.
Dominique Lamb, chief executive officer of the NRA, said in a statement on Wednesday the NRA and the wider retail industry had not been consulted about the possible introduction of the two half-day public holidays, while ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman told SmartCompany this morning “there was no consultancy with the ARA, and there definitely should have been”.
Zimmerman says the changes will have a “big impact” on smaller retailers wanting to trade for longer hours during the busy Christmas trading period.
“SMEs will want to trade for longer hours on those nights, and if you’re paying double-time-and-a-half award rates, it’s going to be a huge cost,” he says.
“I think that governments in all states need to agree on a set amount of public holidays for each state.”
While Zimmerman acknowledges that some smaller retailers choose to close early on the proposed nights anyway, he believes the changes will have a significant impact on convenience stores, which trade 24 hours, seven days a week.
The government that “stole Christmas”
Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong told SmartCompany that the Northern Territory government had “stolen Christmas”.
“We may as well call them the Grinch,” Strong says.
“This shows that the government has no respect for the people who employ workers, they’re quite clearly sending that message.”
While Strong agrees the proposed change will not affect the businesses that will choose to close early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve regardless, he predicts retailers in large shopping hubs like Darwin will feel the impact.
“Some retailers in Darwin would receive a lot of late trade, with people coming in from outlying communities and flying in from other states,” Strong says.
“Now they’ll have to sit down and do their sums, and work out if they can still stay open.”
Both Zimmerman and Strong believe the proposed change come put more pressure business owners to run their stores on their own.
“What will invariably happen is that the owner will do all the work, and part-time and casual staff will miss out,” Zimmerman says.
Strong believes the move is “economic and social stupidity”.
“Before you were paying someone $22 an hour, now you’re paying them $50 an hour, and you’ve got no choice but to not hire them. That employee might be relying on the extra money themselves to buy presents,” Strong says.
These changes could potentially lead to more employers avoiding paying the correct wages, according to Zimmerman.
“For employers that can’t afford these changes, this could encourage more avoidance of employees being paid the right rates,” he says.
The proposed legislation will now sit in the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly for the next four weeks before being voted on in the November sittings.
SmartCompany contacted the Northern Territory Government and the offices of Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Minister Gerald McCarthy, but did not receive a response prior to publication.