A Fair Work Commission decision scrapping junior rates for some retail workers is not the 'big win' it's been described as by a major union, says a rival retail workers representative association.
In a four-yearly review of the General Retail Industry Award 2020, three senior members of the FWC decided junior rates of pay would no longer apply to staff paid at or above level four of the retail award.
Those staff will now receive adult wages.
"A significant proportion of employees covered by the Retail Award may be regarded as 'low paid'," the FWC noted.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) described the decision as "a big win for the SDA and more importantly for young workers in the retail sector."
The fact is many young workers, some aged 16 or 17, who are expected to do adult work, will remain at 50, or 60, or 70 per cent of the adult wageJosh Cullinan, RAFFWU
Union national secretary Gerard Dwyer said "thousands" of young retail workers will earn the full adult rate of pay, and previous arrangements discriminated against adult and junior workers.
"Junior employees could be favoured over adults because of the lower rates," Mr Dwyer said in a statement.
"On the other hand, (the award) discriminated against junior workers because they were doing the work of an adult and getting a lower rate of pay."
However a closer reading of the decision by the FWC finds the SDA had made a "facile argument", and it had "failed to establish a sufficiently cogent case to warrant the variation."
"The SDA's position in respect of the application of junior rates to particular classification levels has fluctuated over time," the FWC noted, saying the arguments made by the union in the past acknowledged the use of lower wages for juniors were part of employer business models.
"The SDA's case is not assisted by the fact that in the award modernisation proceedings it manifestly failed to advance the case it now puts," the FWC said.
The FWC noted there was an "anomaly" in the existing award provisions which needed correction, leading to the decision to recognise the work done by level 4 employees as adult labour.
Josh Cullinan of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), a body set up in opposition to the SDA, says the SDA's attempt to promote the decision as a win for thousands of workers needs to be examined carefully.
"The truth behind the decision is that it's not a win for the SDA," Mr Cullinan told The Courier.
He says the number of workers on level 4 will be in the hundreds, while tens of thousands on the lower levels have won nothing.
"The fact is many young workers, some aged 16 or 17, who are expected to do adult work, will remain at 50, or 60, or 70 per cent of the adult wage," Mr Cullinan said.
"The FWC (said) it would make a minor change to provide workers under 21 years of age who have completed a trade (such as bakers and butchers) and higher levels (such as department and store managers) would not be paid a junior rate. This will affect a few hundred workers at most - probably much less," the RAFFWU said.
"We cannot rely on the bosses or their SDA. This was doomed from the start. Structural discrimination by bosses fleecing billions in wages despite demanding full output from young workers is a feature of the exploitative system. Junior rates will be abolished when workers join together and en masse, fight back."
Retailer representative body the Australian Retailers Association said the judgement will cost young people a shot at landing a job by forcing them to compete with more experienced, adult workers.
"The appearance of fairness masked the reality that junior applicants would be left to fight for the same positions as more seasoned employees," CEO Paul Zahra said.
"We are also concerned that the main effect of the decision will be to reduce the opportunities available for young Australians to find secure work, and make it more prohibitive for retailers to train young staff," he said.
"Junior rates provide a proven benefit for young Australians seeking employment early in their lives, providing an incentive for retailers looking to give opportunities to applicants which lack the training and experience of their established peers."
Mr Zahra, who had previously complained there were 122 awards in the retail industry (there are 122 awards overall in Australia) said the decision demonstrated the commission was "out of touch" with the economic plight businesses in the sector are facing.
"We are in the first recession for almost three decades and it's disappointing to see the Fair Work Commission continue to elevate the costs of employing staff," he said.
The decision, which is provisional, is now open for oppositional submissions. If unopposed, it will come into force in February 2021.
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