Don’t tell anyone they’re here to help

The National Retail Association (NRA) is having another cry. This time, it’s in response to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s announcement that it will be writing to 50 000 retailers across Australia to make sure they are complying with new workplace laws. It will then look at the employment records of 1500 staff, selected at random, to make sure they’re on track.

The NRA has been complaining since before time began about how difficult the new workplace laws are to understand and how hard it is going to be for their employers to cope. The transitional provisions that are aimed at moving employers and employees from the old system to the new are complicated enough for large business, let alone for mum and dad operations. Even figuring out what award applies to which staff member can be confusing.

What a fantastic opportunity then that this contact from the Ombudsman could be for the NRA’s members. A free lesson in workplace law, and not a penny spent by the NRA! Surely this is a win-win situation.

Instead, the Australian quotes a very affronted Gary Black, the association’s executive director, saying that such an audit is a ‘highly discriminatory slur on human resource practices’. Having heard that, you could assume that the Human Resources Leader would join Gary Black in its condemnation. But even they aren’t afraid to tell us that ‘the retail sector generates more complaints than any other industry – 4200 last year, or almost 20 percent’. How dare the Ombudsman point out that the retail sector is the number one source of complaints across the country!

The NRA knows full well that Ombudsman’s primary role is in education. By going on the defensive, it’s doing its members a great disservice. If it really is that hard for retailers to know how to operate under these new laws, why wouldn’t the NRA direct its members to the Ombudsman’s offices where there is a wealth of resources and information, all of it free?

And maybe that’s where the real issue is. If the NRA point out that their members can get for free from the Ombudsman what they normally pay an annual NRA membership fee for, the NRA becomes less vital to small businesses. And with fewer members, its lobbying voice diminishes. There’s no political power if there’s no us fighting against a them.

The Ombudsman says it is ‘mindful that this is an industry which employs large numbers of young people and low-paid workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights’. It’s a shame that the NRA isn’t as concerned about ensuring its members are given all opportunities to operate lawfully as it is about being outraged.

Isy Burns

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  1. That’s the thing though – there are plenty of employers who want to do the right thing. Sure, there are also plenty who actively dislike the changes, but they still know they have to comply. There have been decades upon decades of legislative changes, especially since 2006, and it’s incredibly complicated. If I were a small retailer, I’d want help before I wanted my membership dollars spent on this kind of response.

  2. Yep lots of legislative changes very few of which have supported workers and precious little in the way of regulation (a word fast disappearing from our vocabulary). And as concerning, is that many young people – especially those in casual positions – don’t know that they would have once been entitled to penalty rates, to proper breaks and paid for overtime. The list of what workers have lost, sacrificed or that unions bargained away is long.

    Thanks Isy, great that you raised this for discussion.

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