By Claire Reilly and Aimee Chanthadavong

Retailers have voiced their concerns about the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association’s (SDA) push to increase the wages of 18- to 20-year-olds retail employees to the adult wage.

The SDA is urging the Fair Work Commission to support their ‘100% Pay at 18+’ campaign by starting with a wage increase for 20-year-old retail employees from $16.19 per hour to $17.98. Currently, the adult wage comes into effect when the employee turns 21.

“In the retail industry, if you’re 20, you only get 90 per cent of the adult rate. If you’re 19 years of age, you get 80 per cent of the adult wage,” Joe de Bruyn, national secretary of SDA, said.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about when the right time is to fix this up. We have wanted to do something about this issue for a long time.”

However, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman said a decision to increase junior wage rates “could not come at a worse time” following the July 1 modern award penalty rate and superannuation increase.

“The ARA is fighting this serious attack on employing and skilling youth within the retail sector by the SDA. Historically, retailers and young Australians have been reliant on pay rates to enable retail to bring on low-skilled young staff and increase their skill levels, reducing youth unemployment,” he said.

“This call from the SDA supported by the Federal Government will only punish youth and small to medium retailers who can’t afford to make cozy agreements with the Union at a time when the sector is under significant cost pressure.”

Bruyn noted the plan is not to hurt retailers but to ensure young employees are getting paid for their experience and contribution to the sector.

“We don’t want there to be a big cost impact on retailers. So what we’re saying is, let’s do the adult rate at 20 first, then we’ll come back and look at the adult rate at 19 and then we can phase that in, and then we can look at phasing it in at 18. So we’re looking at something that might happen over a decade,” he said.