Retailers lobby to cut Sunday penalty rates by half

The retail industry wants penalty rates halved for Sundays in the latest attempt to reduce labour costs, as more companies announce job losses and store closures.

But this comes as trade unions are pushing for even higher penalty rates and the right for casual staff to request permanent positions, a push led by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told SmartCompany this morning the body will lobby the Fair Work Australia’s Modern Awards Review to reduce Sunday penalty rates by half.

“Our surveys are telling us that Sundays are the busiest day of the trading week. We’re looking for a reduction from double-time to time-and-a-half in order to keep jobs and flexible hours.”

“This would probably be a good compromise if we could get this through,” he says.

The push to lower penalty rates has been on for several months across a number of industries, but chiefly in retail and hospitality. Businesses say lower sales are making higher labour costs unsustainable.

The hundreds of store closures announced over the past year have bolstered calls for a drop in penalty rates. Zimmerman says this latest call comes after several retailers have informed the organisation they simply can’t employ people if the rates remain high.

“I think there are further changes we’d like to see down the track, but you have to start with what’s realistic, and I think paying 100% extra at the moment is just killing retailers.”

While critics say plenty of students would lose money by reducing penalty rates, Zimmerman says there is an abundance of workers who would be happy to work just on weekends, whether penalty rates are applied or not.

“We’ve heard from people who say they don’t necessarily care [about] penalty rates, but they want to just work on the weekends. That’s from a lot mothers who say their partner can take care of the children while they work on a weekend.”

This also informs Zimmerman’s response to the union push to allow casuals to request permanent employment. He says the notion that all workers should become permanent is one that ignores casual workers’ needs.

“The industry is made up of casual employees, and it always will be. You need casuals for certain hours.”

You can’t expect the industry to run on full-time people 100% of the time. Casual workers are great, and they often prefer that to work around their study hours and whatever other commitments they have, which is usually schooling.”

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