The Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), Russell Zimmerman, and the National Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), Gerard Dwyer have called on the federal government to deliver an Australian Retail Industry Rescue Package, amid collapsing retail revenues due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Zimmerman said the COVID-19 outbreak, and public reactions to it, were fast becoming ‘catastrophic’ for retailers, and said it was imperative the government helped save thousands of retail enterprises and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Australian retail is the largest private sector employer in Australia, with 1.3 million people – many of them younger Australians, women, and seniors – in retail jobs, and those jobs are in grave danger of being lost,” Zimmerman said.
“You only have to look at Sydney’s Pitt Street, where we are today to see the problem. There’s nobody shopping,” he added.
Dwyer said the impact of coronavirus on retail trade and turnover warranted a united front between the SDA, which represented thousands of retail workers, the ARA, as the peak industry body for the sector, and the Morrison government.
“We share the ARA’s concerns that many, many businesses will close and thousands of jobs go as a result of this crisis, which is something none of us have seen before, and we urge the government to act as a stakeholder in preserving the viability of such a critical component of Australia’s economic infrastructure,” he said.
Zimmerman said the threat of business closures was real, and said large retail brands – as well as small and medium operators – were at risk of closing down as discretionary spending had all but evaporated in the space of a week.
“The ARA is in constant communication with its members, and early reports were that revenue across the board was down 30% for March compared to last year; our latest feedback is that turnover has fallen much more sharply than that,” he said.
Dwyer said the collapse in consumer spending was virtually indiscriminate, and said retailers of clothing, footwear, household goods, personal accessories and cafés were just some of the areas affected by the slump.
“Hundreds of thousands of Australians are facing the prospect of not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, not being able to put food on the table, and if we lose these businesses now, those jobs will be harder to get back later,” he said.
Zimmerman said the ARA and the SDA had written jointly to the Prime Minister seeking a package including wage subsidies for retail workers, underwriting of a line of credit so retailers could trade without fear of insolvency, and a guarantee of retail rental payments to give retailers every chance of survival in the face of disintegrating revenues.
“We must be emphatic: the collapse in consumer spending due to panic over coronavirus will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs unless drastic action is taken now, and we call on the government to convene an Australian Retail Industry Rescue Package Taskforce to work with us to preserve retail and the jobs it provides,” Dwyer concluded.
The National Retail Association (NRA) has acknowledged Queensland’s payroll tax relief as a good start, but urged the state government to provide further assistance to help struggling small business.
NRA CEO Dominque Lamb said that the package contained some worthwhile measures, but any second-round stimulus package from the state government would have to go much further to stop more Queensland businesses hitting the wall.
“Payroll tax relief for all business is certainly a welcome measure, however, it only benefits those whose wage bill exceeds $1.3 million each financial year so small business requires more help,” Lamb said.
“Rebates on power bills for sole traders and SMEs is better than nothing, but further assistance will be needed if we want to minimise the number of Queensland businesses lost during this period of unprecedented economic upheaval.
“Should a second-round of stimulus from the Queensland Government be announced, the NRA would like to see greater rent relief measures to incentivise landlords to assist tenants, deferral of land tax payments in 2020 for small business, and the establishment of a business support fund for sectors hit the hardest.
“We would also like to see a comprehensive fund to assist workers who have lost their jobs. This would mean expanding the announcement made today to include industries that do not require people to move to other parts of the state.
“The Government should also provide special leave to workers who do not have annual leave or access to leave entitlements in Queensland and who cannot work as a result of being stood down or placed in quarantine due to Covid-19.” said Lamb.