Campaign highlights penalty rates issue for SME retailers

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has clashed with the Shop Distributive & Allied Employees union over penalty rates and warned that thousands of small businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors would have struggled to open this Easter due to the cost of penalty rates on public holidays.

The ACCI and state and territory chambers of commerce encouraged small business including smaller grocery and convenience stores to put posters up on windows over Easter that highlighted the impact of excessive penalty rates as part of the continuing Small Business Too Big to Ignore campaign.

And Kate Carnell, CEO of the ACCI, told Fairfax newspapers that some union members had tried to intimidate businesses by threatening to boycott them if they displayed the posters.

Ms Carnell said: “Penalty rates of up to two-and-a-half times regular pay are prompting businesses to close over the weekend, or operate only limited hours. Many that are remaining open are using fewer staff, often just the proprietor. Penalty rates mean that many businesses will struggle to break even, with the extra holiday trade cancelled out by the extra wage costs.

“This is a lose-lose-lose situation: customers lose because the services they want are harder to access; staff lose because they don’t get the hours many are seeking at work; and business proprietors lose because they get little benefit from the holiday traffic.”

Ms Carnell said that public holiday penalty rates stand at two-and-a-half times regular pay in the awards for employees in the retail, restaurant, hotel, pharmacy, fast food, dry cleaning, amusements and hair and beauty sectors. This means a casual retail shop assistant or fast food employee is paid a minimum $50.94 an hour.

In February, retail and business groups such as the ARA, ACCI and the Business Council of Australia ramped up calls for cuts to or the abolition of some weekend penalty rates as the Fair Work Commission moved to review all modern awards in early 2015 and conduct a separate review of penalty rates.

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