It’s that time of year when we start looking to the coming 12 months and making our plans or new year’s resolutions. I’d like to propose a resolution for our politicians in 2018, and it’s a simple one: Just leave retailers alone. Get off our backs and get out of our pockets.
2017 seems to have been the year for politicians on both sides to mount a sustained attack on retailers. It started with the hard-fought win on Sunday penalty rates way back in February. This has prompted a concerted campaign from the unions and the Labor Party advocating extraordinary interference in the independent Fair Work Commission process.
It would be a corruption of the process for the Parliament to interfere and to assume for itself the right to determine employment settings for the retail industry. However, we have seen an attempt to do just that in the closing days of the 2017 Parliament, and a commitment from Labor if elected to force retailers back into the penalty rates regime that was deemed unaffordable and inappropriate by the Fair Work Commission.
We’ve not had much joy on the other side of the Parliament either, with the Coalition Government ramming through expensive and intrusive changes to workplace laws to force franchisors to micromanage the employment arrangements of their franchisees, or face sever penalties if the independent business owners get it wrong.
We’ve also seen plenty of additional red tape around the country – from bottle recycling and strict new gift card laws in New South Wales to a missed opportunity in Queensland to reform the state’s confusing and highly restrictive trading hours laws.
And now we have a fresh campaign from the unions to force employers to shift casual workers to permanent at the employee’s discretion. No doubt this will be the next political football match that retailers get dragged into.
The irony of all this interference is that our industry continues to be the most reliable and stable provider of employment, particularly for lower skilled and younger workers, or those looking to re-enter the workforce. If we didn’t do what we do, the politicians wouldn’t be able to crow about the job figures they claim to create.
Yet we do all of this without any formal government structure to support our industry. Other major employers such as tourism, education, transport, construction, mining or agriculture all have Ministers and Government Departments at the state or federal level (and often both) to support their “job creation”. Retail has no such framework propping it up, and nor do we ask for one.
Australia’s resilient retail sector will continue to create jobs, in the face of increasingly fierce international on-line competition, a challenging market environment and rising property prices. But we can certainly do without our politicians adding to the pressure we face. Perhaps 2018 might be the year they come to understand that.