25 Jun 2012

Private Member’s Business – Workplace relations, minimum hours in the retail sector

Mike's Speeches in Parliament Comments Off on Private Member’s Business – Workplace relations, minimum hours in the retail sector

Mr SYMON (Deakin) (25th June 2012 11:57): The decision to cut the minimum hours engagement in the retail sector, firstly by Fair Work Australia and now by the Federal Court, will have a massive impact on young people who work in the retail sector. Young workers, especially students in this sector, have seen their conditions watered down by this decision with nothing in return. I think it is a step backwards for not only students and those young workers but all workers who will be impacted by the knock-on effects in this sector.

When making its initial decision in the national award, Fair Work Australia got the balance right. In most retail awards, including the major ones in New South Wales and Queensland, the standard minimum shift length was three hours, although it was four hours in the Tasmanian retail award. It was back in 1991 that retail employers in Victoria convinced the then Victorian Industrial Relations tribunal to reduce the minimum shift length to two hours. During award modernisation, Fair Work Australia selected the standard which applied to the greatest number of retail workers, which was three hours, as the basis for the national standard under the modern award. As a result, on 1 January 2010, the minimum shift length for the retail industry increased in Victoria, decreased in Tasmania and there was no change—repeat: no change—in the other states. This was the right decision as a national award should reflect the practices of the nation, not of course just one state.

In its recent decision, the Federal Court has taken a step that has changed minimum employment standards that will cut the conditions of student workers and, in reality, all workers, who will now be under pressure due to this decision. The decision will cut students hours by up to a half across the nation where, before workers in Queensland and New South Wales had the protection of a minimum three hours, they will now be cut back to 1½ hours only. It is possible that students could travel into work five days a week and work only 1½ hours for each of those days. That is a total of 7½ hours work for the five days. If you look at the rates in the award, it is not much: for a junior under 16 working as a level 1 retail worker, the award rate is $666.10 per week but, because they are a junior and under 16, it is only 45 per cent of that. If you work that out as an hourly rate, it comes out at around $7.89 per hour. For a student who works every day of the week after school, five days, that is $59.17. They may get a casual loading on top of that, depending on their employment arrangement. But in a place like Melbourne, which is a big city, not every job is actually next door to where the school is. In fact, in many cases, they are many suburbs away and students need to travel by bus or train to get to and from work. Not only does that take time; it also takes money. Even buying a concession ticket is going to add up to a few dollars each day. Taking that out of what is only $59.17 does not leave much at all.

As I said before, I think this decision will have implications for other workers. We have already heard this morning that the member for Wannon is not satisfied. He wants to strip back even more conditions from young and vulnerable workers. As he said, he is not happy with taking away minimum shift engagements after school; he wants to before school as well. The retail industry, as we know, is highly casualised. Around 40 per cent of retail employees are casual compared to an all-industry average of 24 per cent. So there are a substantial number of workers out there who can have hours cut and be replaced with student workers working the 1½-hour minimum. So other workers who are not directly impacted by this decision may find their shifts cut, no longer working nine to 5.30 but being asked to go home at 3.30 or four because students can commence and work until 5.30 at that starting rate of $7.89.

This is of course the thin end of the wedge. For a long time the Liberal Party have been arguing for increased flexibility at the expense of employees’ conditions. We, the people of Australia, saw what the Liberal Party did to those conditions when they imposed Work Choices on the working people of Australia. The election of a federal Labor government undid that great injustice. It is the reason many of us stand in this place today. I certainly think that cutting minimum hours for any employees is a bad move but particularly for those employees who do not know their own workplace rights and do not have people to help them find out where they can do things within their workplace.

Comments are closed.