Renewed push for shorter minimum shifts

Small businesses are optimistic about a renewed push for shorter minimum hours for student casuals, despite Fair Work Australia rejecting similar campaigns in the past.


The National Retail Association has approached Fair Work Australia for the third time in a bid to cut the minimum three-hour shift for casual retail workers to 1.5 hours.


In October, FWA endorsed an earlier decision to reject a cut in minimum retail hours. In its decision, the tribunal criticised the employers’ arguments, stating it was “hard to imagine a weaker evidentiary case”.


The tribunal said employers provided limited evidence in its application, compared with the “significant evidence” presented by the retail workers union; the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.


The SDA welcomed the tribunal’s decision, saying most casuals want shifts which are a minimum of three hours.


However, the tribunal said employers could make another application “to vary the award to deal specifically with the engagement of student casuals”.


Employers are therefore more confident about their latest attempt to reduce the minimum shift left after narrowing their application to student casuals who work after school.


The association has applied for a minimum 1.5 hours a shift to be permitted for student casuals, instead of the three-hour shift for all retail casuals required under Labor’s new modernised award system.


NRA executive director Gary Black says if the employers succeed, it will impact businesses in every state.


“There are about 200,000 retail businesses in Australian and 80% of them are small businesses,” Black says.


“What we are talking about here is largely employment with small businesses because the major businesses are covered by [enterprise bargaining] agreements.”


Black says the case has been adjourned until next year, and expects a decision to be made by June.


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


“Once again, the unions are trying to tell the workers want they want. What unions want and employees need is very different,” Strong says.


“If you’re a school kid, you might be quite happy to come in for an hour and a half. Employees are capable of making their own decisions.”


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


Strong says small businesses are currently forced to pay wages for three hours even if they only require staff for a lesser period.


“From the small business end, that’s called bankruptcy.”


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