The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the modest easing of restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne announced by the Victorian Premier today, as the return of full staffing levels within distribution centres will lessen the burden for retailers confronted by national and local stock constraints.
As part of the Stage 4 restrictions announced in August, warehousing and distribution centres in Melbourne were limited to no more than two-thirds the normal workforce allowed onsite at any one time. From midnight tonight, these staffing levels can return to normal levels with additional Covid safety protocols in place.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said: “The ARA has been intensely calling for this outcome for a number of weeks as a top priority to ease congestion for retailers in the build-up to the critical Christmas trading period.”
“As Victoria is a central point for distribution and freight for many national operations, getting these centres back to capacity now will have an impact not only on the retail industry in Victoria, but nationally.”
Mr Zahra called the other outcomes for retail from today’s Step Two announcements ‘positive, but modest.’
“We are pleased to see infection rates significantly reduced and note that the current levels are equal to or lower than infection levels within NSW during August when retail was open in that state. We remain deeply concerned about the closure of retail until mid to late October at the earliest – that is simply too close to Christmas trading to allow viable retail activity.”
“We also look forward to more financial support being made available to Melbourne metropolitan retailers whose businesses have been devastated by these prolonged closures. The Premier has indicated that budget announcements will deliver some further support. The current measures are only adequate for small retailers. And without further assistance for the larger businesses, we unfortunately could see many store closures,” he said.
Summary of allowable shopping activities under Step Two
Hospitality – takeaway and delivery only
Retail – essentials only – click and collect for the rest
Real estate – private inspections and online auctions only
Shopping – families and households allowed to shop together
Pet grooming: retail pet groomers permitted where contactless service can be provided to clients (mobile closed)
From midnight tonight, 127,000 workers will be able to return to various industries with a Covid-safe plan. The workforce limits for some industries will be expanded. Supermarkets and food distribution centres, for example, will return to full capacity. Abattoirs, seafood and meat processing plants will also see their workforces increase, in line with the levels we know are safe. Manufacturing can return with up to 90 per cent of its workforce. Pet grooming will also resume.
Recognising the increased risk in some of these environments, there will be additional obligations for employers, including regular testing of staff; nightly deep cleanings; separating workers into consistent bubbles; and providing regular training for their workers.
Additionally, the Premier has said the Victorian government will no longer be held to the end of October and the end November dates to take the last steps around restrictions. The Premier is expecting to be able to take the final steps within the roadmap one week earlier than planned – which would mean retail may reopen in three weeks on 19 October. Case numbers, however, will need to be contained in order to take that step.