A shop assistant reacts as she talks with customers at a retail store in central Sydney, Australia, May 3, 2017. Picture taken May 3, 2017.
A shop assistant reacts as she talks with customers at a retail store in central Sydney, Australia, May 3, 2017. Picture taken May 3, 2017. Reuters/Steven Saphore

Retail sector casuals will see their Saturday pay increase to 150 percent over the next three years. The Fair Work Commission full bench ,headed by president Justice Iain Ross, agreed Thursday that casuals deserved higher penalty rate.

Full-time and part-time retail workers are paid 25 percent penalty rate of Saturdays, but casual workers only get 10 percent on top of their 25 percent casual loading. The panel found that casual employees should get increased penalty rates introduced in three stages.

From November, casuals will receive an increase rate of 15 percent for Saturdays. This will bring their total to 135 percent. They will also be paid an extra 5 percent to all causals who worked after 6 p.m. and before 5 a.m. By March 2020, casual workers will be paid an extra 25 percent on top of the casual lodgings. More than 350,000 casuals are expected to be affected by the increase.

Just last year, retail workers had their Sunday penalty rates slashed from 200 percent to 175 percent after the FWC reviewed rates of retail, hospitality and fast food sectors.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, which brought the case, has welcomed the increase, calling it a “major win.”

“These measures go some way to addressing the unjust treatment of casual workers under the award who are not properly compensated for the absence of sick pay, annual leave and the insecurity of work,” SDA national secretary-treasurer Gerard Dwyer said in a statement.

There are strong opponents of the ruling, as expected. Retailers said the decision came at “the worst possible time,” expecting that it would result in cuts to casual hours during peak Christmas period. Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russel Zimmerman feared the decision could result in low Christmas sales.

“Retailers are going to look very closely at their retail casual staff and there’s just not going to be as much work as there would have been,” he said, adding that it would affect small and independent retailers almost immediately as they were not covered by enterprise agreements.

“What’s even worse is the first transition increase is in November — that’s in the month when most retailers put extra casuals for Christmas trade. This is probably the worst possible time it could come in.”

According to AFR Weekend, however, big retailers like Coles and Woolworths will also be hit just as hard by the increase as they had agreed in their enterprise agreements to replicate the award increase if the case was successful.