Employers in the retail industry could be dealt another blow in light of a union push to introduce the adult wage at 18 years of age instead of 20, in addition to a pay push for apprentices.
Reports suggest trade unions are planning to use the retail industry – one of Australia’s last remaining mass employers – as a beachhead to lower the adult wage cut-off by two years.
The union movement is also preparing a push for adult apprentices’ pay to be increased to the level of the minimum wage.
Both changes would be made through a review of the award system by Fair Work Australia, due to commence early next year.
The retail industry is unimpressed with the plan, claiming it is already under pressure due to low consumer confidence, and increases in penalty rates in some states under an overhaul of rewards.
Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says retailers continue to struggle as a result of soaring business costs.
“Many retailers are small to medium operations trying to run their businesses as best they can and, at the end of the day, take home a living,” Zimmerman says.
“Pressure needs to be removed… Retailers need to be able to manage their costs in such a way that they are able to operate efficiently as well as keep Australians employed.”
A meeting of the Australian Council of Trade Unions national executives, starting tomorrow, will settle on the matters, to be pursued in a review of the modern system.
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence says the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association –representing retail workers – will have primary carriage of the wage push, with union support.
According to Lawrence, junior wage rates are particularly important in retail, including the fast food sector, claiming the “positive result” of a pay push would flow on to other sectors.
Meanwhile, Lawrence says the case to increase the wage of adult apprentices will be made through the benchmark manufacturing award, and will also have implications for other sectors.
Apprentice wages are typically paid as a percentage of the rate for qualified tradespeople. However, the Federal Government wants to attract and retain more adults to ease skill shortages.
“Tens of thousands of young Australians… begin their working life as apprentices, but within a few years half of them have dropped out,” Lawrence says.
“In many cases, this is not because they want to but because they struggle to make ends meet on as little as $300 a week.”
“People are entering apprenticeships at later ages and often have to support a family as well as themselves.”
In May, the Gillard government said it supported an increase in apprentice wages as part of a new system of training based on competency rather than seniority.