The peak body representing independent Australian grocers has hit out at the Queensland government for ‘ignoring’ the small businesses it says will be left at a competitive disadvantage by proposed changes to the state’s retail trading laws.
The Queensland Parliament is expected to decide on legislation this week that would streamline the state’s complex regulations that dictate when retailers can open their doors.
The legislation follows a series of independent recommendations made last year. In February, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said reform was needed to “cut needless red-tape and ease the regulatory burden for retailers”.
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The government’s Trading (Allowable Hours) Amendment Bill 2017 is set to be discussed as Parliament sits today. The legislation would allow non-exempt shops, such as department stores and supermarkets, to trade between 7am-9pm on Monday to Friday, and 7am-6pm on Saturdays.
Currently, non-exempt shops may only trade between 8am-9pm on weekdays and 8am-5pm on Saturdays. Exempt shops and independent retail shops, definitions that cover the vast majority of SMEs in QLD, may trade with unrestricted trading hours.
Trading hours on Sundays differ wildly across the state, and in 23 regions, non-exempt stores are prevented from trading on Sundays. The proposed legislation would change these restrictions to allow non-exempt stores to apply to trade on Sundays via an opt-in program.
While some retailers support moves to streamline the trading rules, Master Grocers Australia (MGA) chief executive Jos De Bruin has claimed the Palaszczuk government has “once again ignored the needs of small businesses”, who he says will suffer if large businesses are able to trade for longer.
“Small businesses have planned their investment in their business around being able to trade, without the overarching power of big businesses encroaching on a small window of opportunity they have to realise profits at either end of each trading day, on Saturday evenings and on Sundays,” he said in a statement.
De Bruin told SmartCompany the proposed amendments would see big businesses such as Coles or Woolworths trading an additional 7-11 hours per week at the detriment of small businesses in the state.
“All the research we’ve done of consumers suggests they’re quite happy to keep the current arrangements and that they don’t need the bigger retailers to be open longer,” he says.
“In our view, the Queensland government is not being considerate of the state’s small businesses and their owners.”
Similar changes were made last year in the state’s south-east region, with Queensland’s Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) ruling large retailers could trade between 7am and 9am, Monday to Saturday.
At the time, the changes were divisive. De Bruin believes they were largely unsuccessful and warns similar changes in the rest of the state would spell bad news for SMEs.
“They thought the [south-east trading hours] change would create additional jobs and sales in the region, but the end result is that sales were directly supplanted from small businesses to large businesses,” he says.
“Many of our retailers felt a significant impact on their sales, and as a result had to reduce staff.”
De Bruin believes governments across Australia need to start “walking the talk” in regards to supporting small businesses, instead of regularly brushing over a number of big issues.
“If the Queensland government was serious about supporting small business they would sit down and find out how small businesses can robustly compete with chains and big businesses. The move to change trading hours has completely dampened confidence,” he says.
“All this talk of eliminating red tape here and there, let’s get to the real issues.”
Whilst de Bruin acknowledges the state’s complex trading hours are in need of reform, he believes the current proposal is “impractical” and is calling for more consultation.
“We would like to see a moratorium on any changes whatsoever to trading hours so the government can completely understand what obstacles are being placed in front of SMEs,” he says.
“This is a government policy issue directly affecting Queensland businesses.”
SmartCompany contacted the Premier’s office but did not receive a response prior to publication.