Enhancing productivity – creating a modern retail award

Almost 1.5 million Australians work in the retail sector, making it Australia’s single largest employer. The sector needs flexible workplace arrangements which reflect the 24/7 nature of retailing. Industrial awards are a key part of the retail workforce as more employees in the retail sector are covered by industrial awards than in any other sector.

In December 2008, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission released 'modern' awards for general retail and fast food employees, replacing many existing awards. Despite strong industry representation, the Commission has raised key employment costs such as penalty rates and casual loading, placing retail jobs under great pressure. The impact will be greatest in NSW, Queensland, Queensland and the ACT.

The 'modern' awards will discourage retailers from creating new jobs and will force existing jobs to be reassessed. Young people are most exposed as 50 per cent of employees aged under 20 work in the retail sector.

The fast food sector will also be hard hit. Fast food businesses have always operated outside traditional retail hours. However, the new fast food awards strips away much of this flexibility by introducing high penalty rates. A sector which offers thousands of young people their first job will have little choice but to cut back jobs.

The 'modern' awards will commence on 1 January 2010 and will set new benchmarks for enterprise agreements. Pushing up employment costs at the same time as unemployment is rising, is reckless. About 50,000 jobs have already been lost in the retail sector in the 12 months to November 2008.