Members of the small business community have welcomed a move by the Queensland Government to review the state’s confusing retail trading hours in order to potential unlock $200 million in annual economy benefit to the local economy.
Retail trading hours in Queensland are “in need of modernisation”, according to Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace, who is overseeing the reference group that will conduct the review. Grace believes the current trading hours do not meet community expectations, particularly when it comes to Easter Sunday.
Queensland’s rules around Easter holiday trading hours provide for a list of exempt shops which are able to trade without restrictions, while independent retail shops have to close on Good Friday unless they predominantly sell food. Queensland is also the only state on the eastern seaboard that does not recognise Easter Sunday as a public holiday, which is something Grace hopes to change.
Today Grace will introduce a new Industrial Relations Bill with amendments to the state’s Holidays Act, which she hopes will end confusion about Easter Sunday.
“Many Queenslanders think Easter Sunday is already a public holiday, like it is in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT,” Grace said in a statement.
“These amendments will end this confusion and bring Queensland into line with our biggest interstate trading partners.”
The Government believes there is also general confusion regarding weekend trading hours, with Grace saying “the anomalies in existing trading hour arrangements may be viewed as limiting employment opportunities”.
“This is a chance to introduce modern, contemporary arrangements that reflect the realities of the modern economy,” Grace said.
In Queensland, shops close at 5pm on Saturdays but may trade until 6pm on Sundays. In the Townsville region, shops may open at 9am in the designated tourist zone, but shops outside that zone may not open until 11am.
Queensland also enforces a cap of 20 employees for businesses to be considered an “independent retail shop”. Master Grocers Australia (MGA) chief executive Jos de Bruin told SmartCompany this cap can be difficult for businesses to work with.
“Obviously you don’t want to have 20 people on the floor when you open at 7am, but when it hits 5pm and the store is busy, 20 might not be enough,” de Bruin says.
MGA is part of the reference panel that will be part of the discussion, along with other stakeholder groups like the National Retail Association and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland.
“The MGA has been in conversation with the minister prior to this announcement, and we’d like to think that this is a consequence of those meetings,” de Bruin says.
“We’ve always said that privately owned businesses and family enterprises are the backbone of the economy, but in Queensland the backbone is currently lacking confidence.”
While de Bruin doesn’t believe Queensland SMEs are confused about the states trading hours, he says they are “frustrated with big businesses trying to deregulate trading hours”.
The MGA said in a statement that the current trading hours “simply do not meet the needs” of many Queensland small businesses, but stressed it does not support further deregulation of the state’s trading hours.
“[Further deregulation] would simply allow the bigger stores such Woolworths, Coles and Bunnings to become even more dominant than they are now. This would only result in crowding out smaller retailers and eliminating competition,” de Bruin said in the statement.
De Bruin believes a modernisation of trading hour legislation would let the state’s small business owners better organise staff, provide more opportunity to invest in their businesses, and have more opportunities to employ staff.
“We’re hoping for more flexibility in opportunity for staff employment within the hours that the regulation permits,” de Bruin says.
De Bruin believes trading hours across the country “are working”, and they typically satisfy community needs and expectations. He warns of larger chains pushing for further deregulation, saying it will eliminate any fairness between small and big businesses.
“Larger chains like Coles and Bunnings want to start up a 24/7 regime,” de Bruin says.
“That would mean SMEs would have to work 24/7 and they just can’t do that. There would be no balance or fairness between large and small businesses.”