New industrial relations laws are crushing retail industry: Australian Retail Association

The cumulative impact of dozens of changes to the industry relations framework affecting retailers makes it impossible for them to compete with the overseas retailers, according to Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association.

Speaking at the annual conference of anti-union lobby group the HR Nicholls Society in Melbourne yesterday, Zimmerman said most of the $258 billion industry is unable to work within current guidelines. “And while it’s not all about employment relations, a lot of it is.”

In the past year, year-on-year growth in retail trade has stood at 2.3%, he said. In that same period, discretionary spending growth remains, in many instances, negative, and average rents are escalating at 2% above the CPI per annum.

In addition to these stresses, the industry has been hit with the carbon tax and an increase in staff superannuation payments, as well as a 2.6% pay rise in the retail award.

The industry is also facing a rise in rates for Saturday and Sunday trade, which are set to rise to 50% from 25% extra on Saturday, and from 50% to 100% extra on Sundays.

Retailers are also battling a case which if successful would see the 41,000 20-year-olds who work in retail paid adult wages.

“The unions have said that if this is successful, they’ll push for 18 and 19-year-olds to be paid adult wages too,” Zimmerman said.

When it comes to workplace flexibility, the industry has also been tied up with new obligations to consult on shift changes, new obligations to consider family-friendly rosters, and new parental leave obligations.

“The industry simply cannot afford these changes. They make it too expensive to compete with overseas retailers.

“And this all impacts the SME market. The industry is chock-a-block full of independent, small retailers. I’m just not sure how we’ll compete. We need more flexibility, but we’re seeing less and less of it”.

Also yesterday, the ARA welcomed its meetings with several shadow ministers, saying the Coalition was receptive to many of its concerns.

In a statement, the lobby group said it welcomed how receptive the alternative government ministers were to many of its proposals, which included:

  • Allowing small businesses to remit compulsory superannuation payments made on behalf of workers directly to the Australian Taxation Office
  • Transferring administration of paid parental leave from business to the Family Assistance Office
  • Repealing the carbon tax
  • Setting aside two parliamentary sitting days for the repeal of legislation each year
  • Reporting to Parliament annually on red and green tape reduction
  • Creating a dedicated unit within each department and agency that is charged with driving red tape reduction
  • Linking the remuneration of senior public servants to quantified and proven reductions in red tape
  • Including annual red tape reduction targets in the performance criteria to be considered in determining the re-appointment of departmental secretaries
  • Requiring all cabinet submissions to include a Regulatory Impact Statement – and ensuring they quantify the costs to business and/or the community of new regulations
  • Establishing ministerial advisory councils for each portfolio minister as a means to provide advice on cutting red and green tape

Zimmerman called on the government to follow suit in supporting these changes.

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