The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the unions’ decision to choose jobs over pay rises, as in the current climate increased wage bills would force over 65 per cent of SME retailers to shed staff.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association’s (SDA) has proposed to allow pay rises under the Modern Retail Award to be introduced over a five-year period, but called for all Award rises to be deferred for at least 12 months.

“Retailers have been calling for flexibility in the Award Modernisation process and we welcome the first sign of reasonable negotiation from the unions,” said ARA executive director Richard Evans.

“With unemployment at 5.2 per cent and rising, retailers don’t need the pressure of increased labour costs which will cut jobs.

“We’re now calling on Minister Gillard to direct the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to defer the introduction of the Modern Retail Award for at least 12 months and implement the union proposed five year phase-in of pay rises,” he said. 

No other economy in the world is introducing new labour laws in the context of the global financial crisis and retailers need certainty and stability before they can cope with wage increases. 

“Working families struggling to run small retail shops will need at least 12 months before they are better placed to manage wage increases without shedding staff, depending on the economic outlook.

“The assumption inherent in the ‘modern’ retail award is that retailers are mass employers. The reality is small business is the engine room of the modern economy and small retailers simply cannot afford another blow in this tightening economic climate,” said Evans.