Retailers say the sector is “on its knees” and call for award reform from Fair Work Australia

The National Retail Association has called on Fair Work Australia to give retailers the right to employ workers on two-hour shifts, reduce Sunday rates and have part-timers work longer shifts without overtime.

The association’s submission to Fair Work Australia’s review of modern awards claimed there have been “unprecedented” increases in labour costs in recent years.

Gary Black, the National Retail Association’s executive director, told SmartCompany its primary concern was the Sunday penalty rate, which he says is creating “completely dysfunctional outcomes”.

The association wants the Sunday penalty rate to be halved from double time to 50%.

“The 200% penalty for working on Sunday is a penalty which can’t be justified by reference to other service sector awards,” he says.

“If you look at the restaurant industry or fast food industry or hospitality, in none of those sectors are they required to pay a penalty as high as the retail sector.”

“You have a sector that is on its knees and yet it is being forced to bear labour costs that are completely unsustainable and almost universally retailers are saying they have to re-evaluate the viability of trading on Sundays.”

The National Retail Association’s submission proposes that retailers employ workers for a minimum of two-hour shifts rather than the current three-hour minimum shift.

“The general standard of a three-hour minimum is very high compared to other sector awards. In hospitality and fast food the standard is two hours,” Black says.

“It would enable employers to offer short shifts in particular circumstances; we don’t think there would be a high level of take up here but it does add some flexibility around shift duration.”

The association has also called for retailers to be allowed to have part-time workers work longer shifts without being paid overtime if additional hours were available and the employee wanted more hours.

“Under the modern award we were burdened with an inflexible provision that, if we employ someone on a part-time basis, you must tell them what days of the week they are going to work,” Black says.

“We say these provisions are acting as a prohibition on part-time employment; employers are just not employing people part-time.

“If there was more flexibility there would be more part-time employment and less casual work.”

Fellow industry body the Australian Retailers Association, supports the National Retail Association’s submission for halving penalty rates.

ARA executive chairman Russell Zimmerman told SmartCompany the two bodies were very much aligned in their views on Sunday penalty rates.

“They’ve asked for a couple of things that we haven’t, but some of those we would agree with – the National Retail Association has asked for more flexibility in the part-time award and has also asked for night time rates, which we haven’t, but we would be very supportive of that,” he says.

“We will take that on notice and look at some of those things as we move into the review. In many cases there are similarities between the two submissions.”

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