The National Retail Association is proposing reducing the retail minimum wage by 10%, scrapping penalty rates for nights and Saturdays, reducing penalty rates on Sundays and cutting the minimum shift to one hour.
The Productivity Commission described penalty rates as ‘unlikely to be optimal for many enterprises’; the minimum hours requirement as ‘a constraint on employer flexibility’; and award minimum wages as ‘limiting retailers’ flexibility to consider the adoption of…incentive-based remuneration for their employees.’ Essentially the commission endorses full freedom for bosses at the expense of job security, wages and conditions for workers.
Bosses pretend that this assault on workers’ rights is a result of internet shopping and the global financial crisis. Yet they also bemoan the fact that there is no ‘meaningful replacement for the flexibility provided by AWAs.’ How is it that the Fair Work Act is both not properly enforced and shockingly insufficient, the courts continually rule in employers’ favour, and bosses still demand a return to AWAs?
Despite bosses’ aggressive casualisation push, the Australian National Retail Chief Executive Margy Osmond blames employees who act like casuals. Last year she condescendingly told young people to ‘understand that in “employer world” loyalty and patience also have a place. In this day and age with the capacity of Gen Y to change jobs and careers at a speed that leaves most older employers shaking their heads — outcomes also come from taking a breath and making a commitment to the job you are in.’
In June the retail lobby convinced the government to reduce the minimum shift for high school students to 1.5 hours. Right-wing commentators in The Australian and elsewhere hailed the move as a sensible triumph of flexibility and called on the government to extend such ‘flexibility’ to adult workers.
What they are now proposing for both young and adult retail workers is much worse. Julia Gillard called the proposed changes for students extreme, and then implemented them the following year. The same could happen with these proposals.
Bosses are mounting a full assault on the few rights retail workers currently have. The combined effect of an over-confident business lobby and a Labor government willing to sell out low-paid workers will be disastrous for retail workers unless they organise.
The best response to these attacks is to join UNITE, organise your workplace and fight back. These proposals must be fought collectively in all workplaces, not just in the Productivity Commission and the courts.