Retailers defend FWC penalty rates ruling

Fair-Work-CommissionNational Retail Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb is confident that the Federal Court will uphold the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rates decision, ahead of the final day of hearings.

The NRA is representing members in the Federal Court at this week’s three-day union appeal, where unions representing hospitality and retail workers are challenging the commission’s decision in June to drop Sunday rates by five percentage points for workers in the fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacy sectors, starting July 1.

Lamb said the FWC had spent almost two years examining all sides of the issue, and weighing up evidence from 143 witnesses and almost 6000 written submissions, before handing down its decision in February this year.

“These reductions are desperately needed in today’s 24/7 retail landscape, in which many businesses have been resorting to bringing in family members to cover shifts on Sundays just to keep the doors open, or not open at all,” Lamb said.

“Given the reduction was offset by an increase to the minimum wage in June this year, but was then slated to be phased in over four years, there’s really been no relief for retailers, who need this reduction urgently in order to continue growing their businesses and continue creating jobs for Australian workers,” she said.

“When we’re seeing big international brands like Top Shop go from being the hottest new label to hit Australia going into voluntary liquidation, other mainstays like Oroton Group’s Gap Australia closing after losing $5 million this year, and Toys ‘R’ US filing for bankruptcy just last week, it’s clear if Australia’s IR system does not keep pace with a rapidly-evolving landscape, we’ll continue to see further job losses.”

Lamb said Sunday wages have been unsustainable and not kept pace with a changing environment, and that the vast majority of workers no longer see a difference in working Sundays compared with Saturdays.

“The retail industry employs the largest number of young people in the country, who are also the drivers of innovation and change in this country, who are the most upwardly-mobile in history, and whose values have been shaped on an entirely different set of ideals than that of their parents and grandparents,” she said.

“The younger generations, who have no intention or desire to conform to an outdated nine-to-five lifestyle, will soon to be the biggest consumer demographic in history and we have to allow this country’s industries to evolve alongside them, or they simply will not survive.

“We have fought long and hard to ensure our members are able to continue operating sustainable businesses, to reflect changing consumer habits and employee needs, and continue creating jobs for Australians, and we’re representing our members throughout this appeal to ensure the fair and balanced decision of the independent umpire is respected and upheld,” she said.

Herman Borenstein QC, for United Voice, told the first day of the Federal Court hearing in Melbourne the commission erred in law.

“There was no analysis in this decision…that sought to identify whether there’d been a material change in circumstances,” Borenstein told the panel of judges on Tuesday.

“The determinations were made on the basis of various errors of law.”

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