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Parliament plays games with casual employees

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) condemns moves by opposition parties in the Australian Senate to rollback regulations defining the entitlements of casual workers.

Changing the regulations would not only put casual employees’ pay rates at risk, but also leave business owners liable for huge sums in alleged back-pay.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has indicated it will pressure independents on the crossbench to repeal the Fair Work Amendment (Casual Loading Offset) Regulations 2018 when Parliament reconvenes on April 2.

The regulations were put in place in December and designed to clarify which workers are classified as casual and their entitlements, after the Federal Court’s decision in the Workpac v Skene case caused some confusion.

Without the regulations, retailers could be liable for millions of dollars in back-pay to casuals who were never entitled to annual leave or sick pay.

These regulations are crucial to providing certainty to retailers and their casual employees, and without them, the confusion around entitlements will only get worse and small and family-run retailers will be crippled by the financial cost.

The ALP will destroy casual employment by making it completely insecure, with businesses being forced to cut shifts or shut their doors entirely.

"Without the regulations, retailers could be liable for millions of dollars in back-pay to casuals who were never entitled to annual leave or sick pay."

Retailers really care about their casual employees and want to provide them with the best opportunities that they can.

However, constantly shifting the goalposts and adding millions of dollars to the industry’s wage bill means many retailers may have to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to casual employees who rely on their jobs.

A modest Christmas

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its official trade figures from December, reporting a solid Christmas trade with 2.75 per cent total year-on-year growth in 2018, compared to 2.49 per cent in 2017.

The ARA and Roy Morgan predicted a 2.9 per cent increase in pre-Christmas sales from November 9 to December 24, 2018, so the year-on-year figures released today are broadly in line with our estimates.

While the ABS recorded clothing, footwear and personal accessories were down -2.36 per cent month-to-month, the sector was up 2.38 per cent year-on-year.

Retailers are better off focusing on the year-on-year numbers, which more accurately reflect the seasonality of retail trading.

It’s important to note that there are a variety of factors that have contributed to these softer figures, including the decrease in consumer sentiment caused by rising household costs and low wage growth – which continues to plague the industry and overall economy.

Across the country, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria led the charge with the strongest year-on-year growth – which was consistent throughout 2018.

In other good news, Western Australia showed its strongest growth in December 2018 since July 2017, which is a promising preview for trade into 2019.

And on an even brighter note, the broader retail industry recorded an average year-on-year growth of 3 per cent for the 2018 calendar year, compared to 2.76 per cent for the previous year – despite the ominous commentary announced by multiple media outlets.

The consumer-led nature of the Australian retail sector signals the importance of strong, accurate leadership and the ARA is the only retail association constantly working to move retail forward.

Russell Zimmerman

Russell Zimmerman is the executive director of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA). Email:

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