Unions divided on retail closures

At least 100,000 retail workers have been stood down since the coronavirus outbreak began and with about a third of the industry employed on a casual basis, many are unlikely to be able to access the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy.


RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan is adamant retailers should close their doors to the public if they cannot keep staff safe, saying shoppers could do “click and collect” or online delivery.

Workers at JB Hi-Fi have told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald they are afraid of getting sick at work because customers are not following social distancing and hygiene rules.

One long-term JB Hi-Fi staff member, who did not want to be named because of the company’s media policy, said customers had said they were shopping instead of staying home because they were “bored” and needed video games or musical instruments to entertain them.

Another from a JB Hi-Fi store in Melbourne, who also did not want to be named, said customers had come into the store coughing and abused staff who reminded them about social distancing rules.

Mr Cullinan said JB Hi-Fi was profitable enough to pay its staff, including casuals, their full wages throughout a shutdown, although almost no other retailer has made a similar commitment.

JB Hi-Fi declined to comment.

Workers at JB Hi-Fi are already allowed to stay home without pay if they feel unsafe. The retailer, which employs about 12,500 people, has also gone cashless, shortened trading hours so staff can spend more time cleaning stores, and put in place social distancing measures, particularly around busy areas like checkouts.

Health laws allow stores to stay open, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison deeming every job “essential”.

Mr Cullinan accused the SDA of going against workers’ wishes and addressing their concerns at JB Hi-Fi only when RAFFWU began pursuing them.

“Eight hundred and sixty workers have made it very clear that they want the stores shut and they want paid leave,” Mr Cullinan said. “The SDA is running a line directly contrary to that.”

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer rejected Mr Cullinan’s comments, saying his union had raised concerns with employers including JB Hi-Fi about coronavirus from the beginning of March and had been speaking with union members at the chain regularly.

“As the registered industry union for retail, fast food and warehouse workers, the SDA is busy taking up members’ issues with JB Hi-Fi,” Mr Dwyer said.

He said it was up to health authorities to decide whether stores should be closed and the union was pushing JB Hi-Fi to adopt more safety measures.

“The SDA would welcome members returning to work where and when it is safe to do so,” Mr Dwyer said.

Unlike many of Australia’s other big retailers, JB Hi-Fi has never had a pay and conditions deal with the SDA.

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