Retail group calls for review of penalty rates after scoring win on minimum shifts for students

A key retail group is calling for a review of weekend penalty rates, after succeeding in allowing teenagers to work in stores for just 1.5 hours after school.


The workplace regulator Fair Work Australia yesterday dismissed an appeal by the Shop, Distribution and Allied Employees Association against a ruling which permitted secondary school students to halve the minimum shift time from three hours in certain circumstances.


The Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman says with the minimum shift issue done and dusted, the Federal Government and Fair Work Australia ought to look at other issues in the retail award, including “archaic” weekend penalty rate structures.


“A working week for retail is Monday to Sunday. The sector is driven by consumer demand, and consumers expect retailers to be open about 365 a year,” Zimmerman says.

“That being said, we’re living in an archaic situation where you’re paying penalty rates on Saturday and Sunday, especially double time on Sunday.”


According to Zimmerman, paying time and a half on Sunday would relieve pressures on retailers.


“Retailers understand these conditions have been given in the award but would like to see more flexibility, and a move to see some of these penalty rates being reduced or removed.”


“We accept there should be some recompense for working on Sunday, but probably not double time.”


“We believe that when someone works more than five days in a row, penalty rates should apply.”


“But retailers are looking at their model and saying, ‘Can we afford to stay open?'”


“And mum and dad operators are ending up working seven days a work and not employing anyone.”


Fair Work Australia said yesterday that “on the rehearing we are not persuaded that the decision of the Vice President is affected by error.”


“Accordingly, we are not entitled to exercise the powers in s.607(3) of the FW Act. The appeal must be dismissed.”


Vice President Graeme Watson said allowing for 90 minute shifts might encourage employers to take on student workers.


The case allows for 90-minute minimums so long as:

  • The employee is a full-time secondary school student.
  • The employee is engaged to work between the hours of 3.00pm and 6.30pm on a day which they are required to attend school.
  • The employee agrees to work, and a parent or guardian of the employee agrees to allow the employee to work, a shorter period than three hours.
  • Employment for a longer period than the period of the engagement is not possible either because of the operational requirements of the employer or the unavailability of the employee.”

The issue has been unresolved for about 18 months. The three-hour minimum was brought in by the Rudd Government.


The union had warned that retailers would cut back on adult workers in the afternoon in favour of cheaper students.


But business bodies were largely in support of 1.5 hour minimum shifts, with the Council of Small Business of Australia saying the rules are “well-designed and based around kids” and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warning a lack of flexibility could lead to students losing their jobs.


This article first appeared on SmartCompany.


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