Minimum wage increase sees retailers prepare for economic strain

| June 11, 2014

Peak retail industry body the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has voiced its concerns over the Minimum Wage Panel’s decision last week (4 June 2014) to increase the national minimum wage by 3 per cent.

ARA Executive Director Russell Zimmerman said this increase, which takes effect from the first full pay period after 1 July 2014, will increase the full time Retail Employee Level 1 rate to $703.90 per week (or $18.52 per hour), thereby adding to the stress retailers are already facing in the current economic climate.

“This minimum wage increase, together with sluggish retail trade figures and penalty rate rises under Fair Work Commission awards, will only cause further damage to retailers who are struggling to keep their heads above water as it is. Tuesday 1 July 2014 will see the last transition of penalty rates – meaning Sunday rates will increase to double time and Saturday rates will increase to time and a half.

“With most small to medium retailers being reliant on a minimum wage workforce under the General Retail Award, any move to increase wages within the sector during this time of low consumer confidence and low growth will only further job losses currently underway within the sector – a very distressing truth for retailers.

“The ARA advocated before the tribunal a realistic and manageable minimum wage increase of no more than $8.50 or 1.3 percent in the 2014 Minimum Wage Review.

“The retail industry makes a significant contribution to the overall state of the national economy and employs more people (including more juniors) in Australia than any other private sector industry. The retail industry is more reliant on pay scales than any other industry, and also suffers a higher disproportionate effect in minimum wage increases than other industries due to deregulated trading hours and penalties across all retail awards.

“In response to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver’s comments earlier regarding ‘productivity has been growing at its fastest pace in over the decade’ – this is simply incorrect.  Productivity growth over the year to the March quarter was 2.7 percent, and there have been many periods in recent years when it has been higher and sometimes lower. Productivity growth of 2.7 percent is simply in line with the average pace of expansion seen over the last five years.

“Earlier this year the ARA also condemned the FWC’s inexplicable decision to abolish junior wage rates for 20 year old employees. Retailers are still fuming over this decision which has certainly changed the face of employment for junior employees at a time when youth unemployment has never been higher.

“For retailers to now be slammed with further costs through an increase to the minimum wage is simply unwarranted, and sadly, we expect to see many retail businesses reduce their staff further this year as a result.

“Today’s decision is not sympathetic to the small business economy which it bluntly attacks,” Mr Zimmerman said.

Russell Zimmerman is the Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) which represents Australia’s $265 billion retail sector and employs over 1.2 million people. The ARA’s aim is to inform, protect, advocate and educate its 5,000 independent and national retail members throughout Australia.