Retail group renews push for 1.5-hour shifts

The National Retail Association has renewed its push to change restrictions to after-school hours for school students, labeling the current awards’ flexibility clauses as “meaningless and ineffective”.


In December last year, the NRA approached Fair Work Australia for the third time in a bid to cut the minimum three-hour shift for casual retail workers.


The NRA’s first application was lost, while the second application was rejected in July.


However, the FWA decision didn’t close the door completely on the issue of student workers, with the industrial relations watchdog saying that while it couldn’t approve a blanket reduction in the minimum shift from three hours to two hours, an application specific to student workers would be looked at differently.


This promoted the NRA to file a very narrow application, requesting the minimum shift for student casuals in a retail environment be reduced from three hours to 1.5 hours, but only for after-school work.


According to NRA executive director Gary Black, most businesses struggle to guarantee a three-hour after-school shift because it clashes with closure times.


The NRA believes retailers should be able to employ students on shifts as short as 1.5 hours provided parents agree.


When the NRA renewed its push late last year, it won the support of the Victorian Government.


In its submission to FWA, the Government said of the 20,470 retail businesses in Victoria that are counted as employers, almost 90% have fewer than 20 staff and 51.2% have fewer than four staff.


Victorian Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Richard Dalla-Riva told The Australian Financial Review the award has reduced after-school work opportunities.


“Lower minimum casual shifts… will assist the participation of young people in the workforce, smoothing their eventual transition to full-time employment and making it easier for employers to get necessary staff for shorter periods” he said.


Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says the award is costing jobs and hurting small businesses.


“We need to bring in an award that reflects reality rather than how the FWA thinks the world should operate,” he says.


Strong says small businesses are currently forced to pay wages for three hours even if they only require staff for a lesser period, which ultimately results in bankruptcy.


FWA hearings are scheduled to begin in June.


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