ARA CEO Paul Zahra’s opening remarks to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay Enquiry

OPENING STATEMENT

Thank you, Senators, for the opportunity to appear in front of the committee today.

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, learn and live. And pay my respects to Elders, past and present. I would also like to recognise Australia’s First Nations’ peoples as Australia’s first traders.

The Australian Retailers Association is the oldest, largest and most diverse national retail body, representing a $400 billion sector that employs 1.3 million Australians – making retail the largest private sector employer in the country.

I am joined online this afternoon, by Nick Tindley, partner at FCB Group, a workplace relations expert and adviser to the ARA.

Sound workplace relations underpin our sector’s ability to ensure that retail and hospitality businesses remain resilient in the face of significant economic headwinds and retain the flexibility they need to drive productivity and respond to changing trading conditions.

The ARA supports sustainable wages growth. We support more secure work for the retail workforce and we support more enterprise bargaining.

We think many aspects of this Bill will create mutual benefit for employers and employees alike.

  • The changes to the Better-off Overall Test will remove many of the existing barriers and disincentives to enterprise bargaining.
  • The measures to address gender inequality, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are vitally important for our sector, given that almost two-thirds of the retail workforce are women.
  • And the increase in the small claims threshold will make it easier for more small business to access cost-effective mediation on pay disputes instead of lengthy and costly court proceedings, provided these provisions are used in good faith.

However, we are deeply concerned about the inclusion of multi-employer bargaining in this Bill, both in terms of process and substance.

  • We don’t think that business has had enough time to contemplate these reforms.
  • We don’t think these changes will deliver higher wages or more secure work.
  • And we don’t think these changes will increase flexibility or improve productivity.

We believe that increasing access to multi-employer bargaining will add cost and complexity, result in even fewer enterprise agreements and drive more disputes.

As Australia’s most diverse peak body for the retail sector, we represent our country’s largest national retailers and small and medium sized retail businesses- who represent 95% of our membership.

This means we are well placed to talk about the potential impact of these changes on a range of different businesses.

  • For small business, we fear these changes will lead to more complex and more costly processes, without any guarantee that workers will be better off or delivering critically important improvements in flexibility for employers.
  • And for larger businesses, we do not believe these reforms are workable in the real world. Nor do we believe they will drive wages growth in our sector, where a war for talent is already driving healthy competitive tension in pay and conditions.

As I said at the outset, the ARA supports enterprise bargaining.

However, we firmly believe that enterprise bargaining can only work effectively when parties are acting in their own interests and participating voluntarily, not because they have been drawn into the process by another party, alongside other employers (who may also be competitors).

There are many positive elements of this Bill but we do urge the government to pause and reflect on some of the more contentious elements of this legislation to ensure that it does indeed create better pay and more secure work.

Thank you.

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