One-and-a-half hours, the new ultimate working shift for casual employees.
Oh, but it’s only for ‘young’ employees; or in other words, full-time secondary students. And only between 3.00pm and 6.30pm on weekdays.
Fair Work Australia (FWA) has approved a submission by the National Retail Association (NRA) to shorten ‘young’ employees’ hours down to one-and-a-half, who previously had vied for casuals to not have to work less than 3 hours.
Nice work, FWA. Now secondary students will have to work twice as many shifts a week to gain the money they would have earned doing one or two 3-hour shifts. And they’ll still have to pay for travel to their retail destination, so basically that $18 they may gain over the one-and-a-half hour shift will go directly towards petrol and maybe their afternoon tea for the day.
Yes, that’s fair, FWA.
Industry officials have described the decision as “win-win” for all parties involved – retailers, parents and students. The executive of Australian Retailers Association (ARA), Russell Zimmerman, describes the decision as “logical” and stated that “it’s just a pity this decision wasn’t made any earlier”. He believes that allowing students to work between when school finishes and most businesses close will be both beneficial for retailers who need extra man-power during these times, and to students who would like to work after school.
Of course this is beneficial for retailers – they will now have less need for mature-aged workers and university students who are available to work longer hours but will cost more to hire. And true, secondary students may find that $18 they gain from working one afternoon a week will be highly beneficial for their social life on the weekend.
Perhaps I am generalising a bit. Even still, I am a third year university student and I would certainly prefer to have those hours to go towards my mounting HEX debt. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of having parents who pay for my school fees. But sure Zimmerman, this is a “win-win” for everyone involved.
The NRA has been running the campaign to shorten the minimum shift lengths for awhile now, arguing that allowing for 3 hours as a minimum was a hindrance to some small retailers – specifically those on tight profit margins. Likewise, they argued that it was limiting opportunities for after-school workers.
On the other hand, The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) had a firm belief that having the 3-hour minimum shift ensured workers would receive a decent wage, and to reduce it would endanger the income of millions of casual workers.
Honestly, I am more inclined to agree with the ACTU.
While I concur that this will help some small retailers, it has almost certainly left the big fat retail chains with a greedy grin on their faces. This proposal will grossly affect the way casual workers who have finished school are viewed in the eyes of retailers. Why give a 3-hour shift to a 21-year-old who is costing them $60 (excluding tax deductions) when they could give two 17-year-olds a one-and-a-half hour shift each for $36?
If that is not bad enough, what about the 40-year-old mother of two who would like to earn a little bit of extra money to go towards the exponentially substantial cost of living? She would practically become null and void to a potential employer.
NRA executive Gary Black implores that this move is giving young people a chance to gain work experience, learn employability skills and develop a healthy work ethic. Understandably, this does seem like a great opportunity for developing these essential skills for later in life. But what I cannot understand is how suddenly those of us who went through Grade 11 and 12 working on weekends at Coles and Woolworths did not benefit from those opportunities given to us. The majority of retail employers have needed staff on weekends – so what changed?
Black claimed that parents have found it has been increasingly difficult for their children to find work because of restrictive work arrangements imposed on to the retail sector through the modern reward process. I don’t know about these parents, but I feel like asking them exactly what retailers their kids tried to be employed by. And if these retailers wouldn’t hire their children for some apparent reason, what makes them think a retailer will hire them just because the amount of time they are required to work has shortened? If they weren’t good enough before, they certainly won’t be good enough now.
The proposal in my opinion has presented a new dilemma. While it appears to have fixed a long-standing problem, in reality it has created a myriad of new ones. True, 16 and 17-year-olds will now be able to work an hour-and-a-half after school every day (if retailers have it in their hearts to give them that many shifts) and this will give them some pocket money and allow for experience in the work force (which apparently they weren’t going to get before with working a 3-hour shift on a Saturday).
But now university students, mature-aged parents or older workers, and maybe even international citizens (who most likely have fantastic people skills and extensive retail experience from working in the sector since they were 15) will have to fight to gain casual hours – and are certainly more deserving of those hours in terms of how well the business will function (if we look at knowledge, skills and prior experience that is).
Yes NRA and FWA, this is a fabulous idea.
Fair and “win-win” for all.
Jayne Balke, 20th June 2011.