Master Grocers Australia, Australian Retailers Association, National Retail Association and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman strongly support today’s Federal Court verdict in upholding the Fair Work Commission’s penalty-rates decision to reduce Sunday and public-holiday penalty rates under the General Retail Industry Award 2010.
Master Grocers Australia (MGA) CEO Jos de Bruin said, “The decision by the Federal Court has proven that employers were justified in their claim to reduce Sunday penalty rates. In its decision the Federal Court stated that in hearing any matter the Fair Work Commission is charged with the responsibility of considering all the relevant evidence and reaching the appropriate conclusion. The Federal Court found that the Fair Work Commission had carefully considered all the arguments that had been placed before it and the Federal Court was not able to ‘enter into the merits of the determinations made by the Fair Work Commission’.”
Mr de Bruin continued, “MGA, together with a number of other industry associations, had engaged Stuart Wood QC and his team to defend this application for the retail sector. At the hearing Counsel had stressed that the FWC made the correct decision, it had acted within its jurisdiction and that, in its decision the FWC was balancing the interests of employees and employers.”
“The new penalty rates have already been introduced into the modern award and will reduce gradually over the next few years to 50% on Sunday. We have never advocated not providing some compensation for employees working on Sunday. By reducing the Sunday penalty our retailers have gained an opportunity to employ more staff, have some time for themselves and also keep the business viable. Many employers simply could not afford to continue paying high penalty rates and previously employing extra staff was too expensive and therefore economically difficult. This favourable decision is going to help small businesses to grow and, despite what some critics claim, the decision will definitely assist in employment growth and productivity, because without this opportunity employers simply could not afford to give jobs to those who want them”.
The ARA has been at the forefront of the penalty-rates case and strongly opposed both United Voice and the Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association’s application for judicial review of the penalty-rates decision, saying it would significantly stifle employment growth within the Australian retail industry.
ARA Executive Director Russell Zimmerman says the decision has vindicated the association’s hard work over the past four years aimed at increasing employment rates in the sector and sustaining economic growth across Australia.
“The latest August retailing trade figures of only 2.15 per cent year-on-year growth have proved just how challenging the current retail climate is,” he said.
“These disappointing growth figures, combined with increasing economic pressures, are significantly affecting employment rates across Australia and stifling retail growth nationally.”
“We now have a unanimous decision from a five-member Full Court of the Federal Court supporting the unanimous decision of a five-member Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission to reduce penalty rates.
“The ARA hopes the ALP and other political parties who are seeking to overturn this decision are sensible enough to accept the umpire’s decision and allow retailers to get on with the job of employing more people.”
The ARA says it looks forward to the numerous opportunities and benefits for both employees and employers working within the retail sector.
“With the entrance of many international players into the Australian market and the continual increases in energy and rental prices, the ARA looks forward to the next penalty-rates reduction on July 1, 2018,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“This second penalty-rates reduction phase will lessen the strain on Australian retailers, put the unemployed back into the workforce and increase trading hours across the country.”
Although the ARA says it is somewhat disappointed that the transitional arrangements for the reduction in penalty rates will be taken over a four-year period, it eagerly awaits an abundance of possibilities for employment and retail growth.
NRA CEO Dominique Lamb says retailers are pleased to see the issue put to bed, so they can get on with running their businesses, creating employment opportunities for Australian workers, and contributing to the Australian economy.
“The FWC devoted two years to examining all sides of the issue and weighed up evidence from 143 witnesses and almost 6,000 written submissions before determining a very sensible compromise that reflected a modern social and economic environment,” she said.
“Given the reductions were offset by an increase to the minimum wage in June this year, but the reductions were then slated to be phased in over four years, there’s really been no relief for retailers.
“We need to stop preventing retailers from adapting to a rapidly changing environment, and work out how we, as a nation, can instead enable and foster growth for one of the most valuable contributors to the Australian economy.
“Our members are out there devising new ways to do business, innovating their offerings, thinking outside the box and finding remarkable ways to cater to modern consumers, but they can only do so much without the support of equally forward-thinking decision-makers.
“Retail employs the highest number of youth of any other industry in Australia, so we’re pleased to see this sensible decision upheld and are looking forward to being able to employ more young Australians.
“We’ll continue working with our members to drive innovation and sustainability in this sector.”
Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said: “Small-business operators will be relieved at this decision, which levels the playing field in competition against big business.
“Big business and unions have made deals in the past through enterprise agreements which traded penalty rates for union membership and higher base rates.
“Small businesses don’t have the capacity to negotiate enterprise agreements and continue to grapple with the most complex award system in the world.
“People’s lifestyles and expectations have changed over the past 20 years. Fewer people go to church and many people want to work and shop on Sundays and public holidays.
“It’s a shame that unions are running a scare campaign against the penalty-rates decision. Everyone should respect the decision of the independent umpire; otherwise the integrity of the system is undermined.”