Shopping centres must start counting people at entrances: shop workers union

Police enforcing social distancing measures in the Canberra Centre in April. Picture: Karleen Minney
Police enforcing social distancing measures in the Canberra Centre in April. Picture: Karleen Minney

Shopping centres must limit the number of people entering communal areas or risk a second wave of the pandemic taking hold, the retail workers' union has warned.

"If you want to cut to the chase, the real key item is the control of the number of people entering the centres - you can't just have an unlimited number," Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association national secretary Gerard Dwyer told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.

"Unless you're counting on the way in, the four-square-metre rule gets breached first then the 1.5-metre rule seems to get ignored. We're having this stark contrast between inside the stores and the common areas."

Pointing to the crowds in shopping centres, Dr Dwyer said complacency was taking hold and all centres must lift their standards to avoid "blindly walking into a second wave".

In Melbourne, one outbreak is linked to an H&M store.

Mr Dwyer said Australia was experiencing a "pink recession" but a "blue recovery", with government spending focused on infrastructure and male-dominated industries.

Overall about 60 per cent of retail workers were women, but some sectors such as clothing stores were overwhelmingly dominated by female workers. Shops such as supermarkets and hardware stores, which had done well during the lockdown, had a more even gender balance, he said.

Women had also borne the lion's share of home schooling and caring, he said, also criticising the scheme that allows people withdraw up to $20,000 of their superannuation. Women already retired on half the superannuation of men on average, with men accessing two-thirds of the superannuation tax concessions, he said.

Tim Kennedy, from the United Workers Union, said implementation of the JobKeeper subsidy had been bungled. A "couple of million people" were now living precariously, with queues around food banks of overseas workers and casuals who didn't qualify for the money.

There is great damage being done to individuals. It'll be the type of economic scarring that could really affect our young people for many, many years.

UWU national secretary Tim Kennedy

In September, many more would lose their jobs as the subsidy ended, he said.

"A lot of people will move directly from JobKeeper to unemployed, and the dislocation that that is going to cause is going to be quite significant," he said. "It would be a foolish and irrational decision to stop JobKeeper at this point in time. We need to extend it at least 'til the end of the year and then review what people need. In short ... it will cause enormous social dislocation if it stops."

He urged the government to support young people, warning that Australia risked losing a generation to the economy.

"What we [did] is we built that bridge about a quarter of the way across the ravine and people are falling off," he said, referring to the government's description of its support as a bridge to the other side of the pandemic.

"There is great damage being done to individuals. It'll be the type of economic scarring that could really affect our young people for many, many years."

The union represents about 9000 casino workers, who would probably be among the last to get back to work, he said.

Michele O'Neil, from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said JobKeeper was important but flawed. Hundreds of thousands of people had missed out, having a catastrophic effect on their lives, she said.

In Melbourne, overseas students had lined up for hours for food vouchers in a scheme that had been designed for 1000 students but had been closed after 17,000 people applied in just 36 hours.


She referred to a mother and daughter who had both lost their jobs, one in airline cabin services and the other in an airport food franchise. Neither were eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker.

Ms O'Neil said JobKeeper should be expanded to include workers currently excluded and should be extended for six months beyond the end of September.

And she called for the creation of a new pandemic leave scheme for people who don't get sick leave. One in three workers do not get paid sick leave, she said.

Victoria and Queensland are offering paid pandemic leave, but Ms O'Neil said it should not depend on where you live.

"If we're going to keep Australians safe, if we're going to ensure that we don't have a second or third wave, if we're going to make sure that people do what's necessary to both protect themselves and their families and their workmates and our community, there's a simple answer to that," she said.

"And that answer must [be] that people are not forced to choose between their income, paying their bills, buying food for their children - and their health and the potential risk to others."

Mr Dwyer also pushed for the continuation of the JobKeeper wage subsidy beyond September for retail workers, saying some retailers would not survive without it.

He said the sector would struggle in the longer term as people had less money to spend with higher unemployment and low wages. Many retailers were struggling now without the JobKeeper, with trade down 10 or 15 per cent, not enough to qualify for the wage subsidy, he said.

"Retail depends on consumer spending power and consumer confidence and we're a long way off having both of those," he said.

This story Shopping centres must start counting people at entrances: union first appeared on The Canberra Times.