Small business groups and unions strike deal to give part-timers in retail extra hours without penalty rates

Westfield shopping centre in Doncaster, Victoria. Source: AAP.

The Council of Small Business Groups Australia (COSBOA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) are jointly supporting changes to the retail award, which would allow 1.2 million part-time employees to work extra shifts without receiving penalty rates.

The agreement to change the General Retail Industry Award was first struck between the peak retail union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and Master Grocers Australia, which represents independent grocers, and now has the backing of both COSBOA and the ACTU.

However, a number of other business groups, including the Australian Retailers Association and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry say the proposal was “rushed” and is impractical for businesses of all sizes.

The proposal, which was submitted to the Fair Work Commission on Monday, would allow retail businesses to offer part-time employees extra shifts beyond nine hours per week at the ordinary rate of pay without incurring penalty rates.

The maximum number of additional hours part-time workers could work at the ordinary pay rate would be capped at 38 hours per week.

COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong says the agreement will help small businesses adapt to changing conditions by providing greater flexibility.

“Small businesses want to invest in their employees, giving more hours in a fair and planned way to existing part time workers,” Strong said in a statement.

“This agreement does this by respecting employees rights to certainty and also giving flexibility to small business.”

Flexible overtime provisions for part-time workers, including those covered by the retail award were proposed by the Morrison government in its industrial relations omnibus bill, which the Senate is currently debating.

Different to the new agreement, the government’s bill would require part-timers to work at least 16 hours a week before being eligible for extra hours at the ordinary pay rate.

The proposal would also require employers and workers to agree in writing to any changes in hours and ensure that an ongoing increase in hours could be reviewed and incorporated into a worker’s contract.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has backed the proposal and said bringing more flexibility to part-time award rates would help prevent further casualisation of the workforce.

“Underemployment is a major problem in our economy, and we risk the jobs recovery in hard hit sectors becoming entirely casualised, with workers having no chance of permanent jobs with permanent rights and predictable hours,” McManus said.

However, the proposal has been met with criticism from five industry groups and associations, which said the proposal is similar to what is already in the industrial relation omnibus bill, but adds a compliance burden and risk for employers.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the Australian Retailers Association, the National Retail Association and the Australian Business Industrial said in a statement the proposal was “rushed and will not work in practice for business, big or small”.

The five groups criticised the ACTU, COSBOA, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association and Master Grocers Australia for not consulting any other employer associations before brokering the deal, and said they would actively contribute to the Fair Work Commission’s review of the proposal.

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