Eased Vic restrictions retail relief ongoing Delta impact requires return of Federal support

Tuesday 27 July 2021

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) today welcomed the end of severe lockdown restrictions in Victoria, which have cost around two billion in retail trade. However, ARA CEO Paul Zahra called on the Federal government to urgently reinstate business support measures to offset the mounting losses of continued Delta outbreaks.

“This has been an unprecedented time with lockdowns occurring across multiple states without an adequate business safety net, leaving many businesses and their employees with mounting debts and costs while having their income cut off,” Mr Zahra said.

“With Delta we are potentially facing another economic cliff. Small businesses around the country face continued hurdles as the Delta variant threatens commercial operations – particularly in NSW, which is our economic capital. We have called on the Prime Minister to restore a number of targeted business support measures until vaccination rates improve considerably,” said Mr Zahra.

The ARA’s recommended business support measures include: reintroduction of the successful JobKeeper scheme, restoration of temporary industrial relations flexibility provisions, reintroduction of the Leasing Code of Conduct, introduction of national protocols for covid restrictions, provision of flexible trading hours and prioritisation of vaccine availability for frontline retail workers.

ARA Recommended Business Measures:

  • JobKeeper: The JobKeeper measure introduced last year made a powerful impact on the sustainability of retail businesses. We believe this should be reintroduced as a scheme with proven success and one which – with the payments made by business – allows employees and employers to remain positively connected and provides business and employment certainty. Rather than introducing a new administration measure, during a time when businesses are struggling to keep their head above water, our recommendation is to use a known and existing model.

  • Industrial relations flexibility: The pandemic has brought new definition to the term agility – requiring retailers to pivot their store and staffing arrangements often with only a few hours’ notice. This operating environment means that staff rosters and store operating hours need to align – to maintain the safety and financial security for all involved. We seek the reinstatement of the temporary industrial relations flexibilities in the Fair Work Act until such time that lockdowns become a distant reality. Reinstating the Fair Work Act flexibilities will enable many employers of hard-hit businesses to help keep staff on and adapt to changing circumstances. Being able to kickstart a business after partial shutdown or hibernation with the same employees on board will make all the difference.

  • Leasing Code of Conduct: Leasing along with payroll costs are the two greatest pain points for retailers and once again rental payments are becoming a trigger for business collapse amongst many retailers. The Federally initiated Leasing Code of Conduct was highly successful in protecting the interests of small retailers during extended lockdowns and created a helpful framework for negotiations with larger retailers. With this measure now removed, we are already hearing many stories of landlords threatening the financial stability of small retailers. We recommend an urgent reinstatement of this measure nationally to help otherwise successful retailers survive this difficult period.

  • National protocols for Covid restrictions: Bespoke provisions and restrictions are occurring within each state and territory each time a lockdown is announced, making the cost to business and safety impacts unnecessarily high. We recommend a national protocol is established to lay out agreed and consistent protocols around the following areas:

  • Lockdown and reopening triggers

  • Lockdown notice periods and notice protocols

  • The definition of essential businesses and workers

  • Consistent Covid safety measures within stores and workplaces

  • Consistent provisions for the use of QR codes

  • A consistent approach to Covid enforcement matters, including fines and penalties

  • Trading hours: Retailers are required to shut and reopen with minimal – often only a few hours – notice. This can create safety challenges with ongoing panic buying and supressed shopper demand as restrictions ease. For the safety and security of retail customers and staff we are recommending all States and Territories adopt flexible trading hours in line with NSW and Victoria, allowing retailers to open early and close later to safely cater for these intense shopping periods.

  • Vaccinations: Retail workers are consistently on the frontlines of this pandemic and both at risk and potentially at risk to others during their daily responsibilities. The retail workforce is a young workforce, meaning that vaccination opportunities are delayed for many in this cohort. We recommend the urgent prioritisation of retail workers for vaccination. The retail sector also stands ready to support the vaccination rollout, with many retailers already offering their own locations as support locations for vaccinations.

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