Paid maternity leave to cripple SME retailers: ARA

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th June 2008

In its submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into paid maternity, paternity and parental leave, peak industry body the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has maintained the issue should be an enterprise-by-enterprise decision unless it’s supported fully by Government funding.

ARA Executive Director Richard Evans believes the compliance costs associated with industry-wide maternity, paternity and parental leave scheme would be crippling for SME (small to medium) retailers and would seriously harm their economic viability and financial survival.

“There is an obvious momentum towards a national parental leave scheme – but we dispute such a scheme needs to be supported by employer contributions. SME retailers simply can’t afford it,” he said. “Any introduction of a national paid parental leave scheme must be taxpayer funded – with essential rebates to small business operators for its compulsory administration on behalf of the Government.”

Mr Evans said an industry-wide maternity, paternity and parental leave scheme would only place more strain on the retail sector already suffering the effects of interest rate rises, petrol prices and marginal and inflationary pressures. “If retailers are forced to fund paid parental leave, this is expected to cause a return to a casualisation of the retail workforce to keep their doors open in a tightening economic environment. We want to offer our employees certainty and security, but if paid maternity leave forces us to shift towards increasing casual employment, housing loans and renting become harder for workers to achieve.”

“This is not a good thing. Parents taking time off to care for children is a good thing but businesses shouldn’t have to suffer,” Evans said.

The ARA consulted heavily with its 400 largest members through focus group discussions and a direct survey before preparing its submission and has been invited by the Productivity Commission to provide evidence supporting its findings in a verbal presentation on Wednesday 11 June.

The issue of maternity leave has become topical following Woolworths’ commitment this week to provide paid maternity leave to their permanent staff. Aldi and Myer have already embraced the concept and pressure on other major retailers to provide similar packages is set to rise.