The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) today welcomed reforms in the industrial relations Bill released by the Federal Government, applauding the changes to casual employment which will improve certainty and choice for retailers and their employees during a critical period of economic recovery.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the changes followed months of discussion between the ARA, the Federal Government, unions and other industry stakeholders.
“It was a privilege to represent the retail industry in the Attorney-General’s working group on casuals, given the importance of casual employees to the retail industry. We’re proud of the way that the industry managed to work with government and unions, and we believe this is a good and fair outcome overall,” Mr Zahra said.
“During what has been an incredibly volatile year for the retail industry, it is crucial to see retailers provided with greater certainty around casual employment, which provides many young Australians with job opportunities at the start of their working lives,” he added.
“The definition of casual employment addresses some concerns around existing arrangements and elevates the importance of what is agreed between an employer and employee, providing everyone with more freedom to determine the arrangements that best suit their situation,” Mr Zahra said.
“The way that employees agree to be hired is central to the way their employment is defined. Importantly, these changes clarify gaps in existing legislation, which may permit staff to “double-dip” on a casual loading and permanent employee entitlements – this needed to be urgently addressed,” Mr Zahra continued.
“We believe changes to the casual conversion process are administratively heavy particularly for larger enterprises. However, the reforms address concerns around casual work by giving employees a guaranteed right to be offered a conversion to permanent employment. This adds certainty and provides more choice for staff employed on a casual basis,” he added.
“There is still some friction between the determination of a casual and the reality of how they work, which is not ideal, but we believe that overall, the definition of a casual is a big step forward,” Mr Zahra continued.
The ARA welcomes the broader industrial relations reforms proposed in the Bill but highlighted concerns around the continued inflexibility of the Retail Award and the continued challenges with the BOOT assessment in Enterprise Bargaining.
ARA will welcome changes to enterprise bargaining that strips red tape through reducing complexity of the system and speeding up approval processes. Retailers have been victims in the past of these complexities, with some agreements taking more than 12 months to go through the approval process, creating massive planning challenges and uncertainty for employees.
While ARA supports provisions that promote compliance and ensure employees are paid correctly, there is a need to ensure that provisions which criminalise underpayments are not too broadly applied which will result in unintended consequences.
Mr Zahra said the part-time provisions in the Bill do not align with the Hospitality Industry General Award, where the minimum weekly hours to access flexibility is set at 8 hours, versus 16 hours in the Bill. While it has achieved an incremental improvement to the current award, the significant number of part time employees who work between 8 and 16 hours a week, and their employers, have unfortunately missed out.
“The ARA has made its position clear on these matters for many months. The retail award is needlessly complex and confusing and contains needless red tape which creates barriers to employment. We will continue to advocate for broader reforms in these areas, although we are concerned that the most powerful window for near term change has now passed,” he said.
“We commend the Government and Attorney-General Christian Porter for driving this reform agenda. The benefits of this reform will be seen in the confidence by which the retail industry, as Australia’s largest private sector employer, can move ahead with its hiring plans for next year,” said Mr Zahra.