Retail Trading Amendment (Boxing Day) Bill 2017

September 19, 2017

It is with a combination of dismay and pride that I speak in debate on the Retail Trading Amendment (Boxing Day) Bill 2017 and, for the second time, to oppose this Government's plans to rob retail workers of their precious time off with their family at Christmas time—probably one of the most special times in our calendar, a time set aside for us to spend what is, for some, rare time with our families. I often hear the Premier and Government members—I acknowledge not all of them—say that they are the friends of the worker. I have a message for those who say that.


If the Premier or those Government members went to a warehouse or a workplace in Western Sydney or south-west Sydney or around Campbelltown or Macarthur and, in response to a question from one of the workers who were assembled there, "What is the weather like outside?", said, "It is a beautiful day outside; the sun is shining", I reckon every one of those workers would go and get an umbrella. The Government's rhetoric has no credibility. I speak with dismay in this debate because just when I thought the Government in its attacks on working people across New South Wales could not get any more shameless, it has put forward this proposal. I also speak with pride in this debate because I stand shoulder to shoulder with those workers and their families.


I take great pride in standing by the hardworking people who drive our local economy and who do so for the betterment of their families, their local community and everyone else. I cannot understand what the member for Parramatta has against working people. There are a lot of them in his electorate and they would be very interested to hear his interjections. I speak with great pride in this debate because this side of the House, in opposing these changes, continues to fight against the persistent attacks and rhetorical statements of the conservatives on the other side of the House.

The people of Parramatta know their local member better than I do. I will leave it as a matter for them. When this legislation first came before the Parliament two years ago, the Opposition, in particular the shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, the Hon. Adam Searle in the other place, was very vocal in our opposition to it. So too was the shadow Treasurer, the member for Keira, in his contribution to this debate, as well as the Opposition speakers today, including the member for Swansea and the member for Maitland.


Our reasons for opposing this legislation today are the same as they were in 2015. It is plain and simple: the Christmas holidays are first and foremost about spending time with family and loved ones and taking a break from work. It is as simple as that. We on this side know that people do not magically have more money in their pockets because retail stores are open an extra day. All that is achieved by opening retail stores across the State on Boxing Day is that people, rather than shopping on 27 or 28 December, will go shopping a day or two earlier. If somebody wants to buy something, they will go and purchase it. But the total volume of retail sales does not increase; it is merely spread over a longer period.


The economic benefits are insignificant, if not non-existent. However, the impact of this bill on retail workers is significant. That is why I oppose this bill and why the Labor Opposition will continue to oppose this bill. The results of the two-year trial of statewide Boxing Day trading have confirmed all of the concerns that were raised by members on this side when this matter was debated two years ago. Most concerning is the data about workers feeling pressured to work on Boxing Day, something that the Government guaranteed would not happen. I refer to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 November 2015 that was written by Sean Nicholls about a resident of Seven Hills who once lived in the Northern Territory. It reads:

After moving to NSW almost six years ago, she was surprised and relieved to find she would no longer have to work on Boxing Day. But just after midnight on Wednesday morning, she was dismayed to learn that Boxing Day would no longer be protected. "It's not nice. Your family is at home for Christmas and you have to work," she said.

She went on to say that her sister:

… lives in Canberra and two of her four children live in Alice Springs. Her third child lives in Queensland and the fourth is in Sydney. For family gatherings at Christmas, a day of travel is needed to bridge the distance.

The constituent—who, as I said, now lives in Seven Hills—said she was disgusted that the New South Wales Government had allowed Boxing Day trading to go ahead. The article stated:

"As a single mother, it will mean I don't get quality time with my family," she said. "As a retail worker, just having those two days on Christmas Day and Boxing Day as a family is important. People don't need to shop every day of the week."

I draw the House's attention to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in August this year which quoted a 22‑year‑old worker who was pressured to work on Boxing Day in 2015.

These are not fabricated stories; they are real‑life stories. I note the interjection from the member for Heathcote, but these are real stories about people's lives. I am not making this up. These are the people who vote for us. These are the people that the member will have to explain himself to when he does his mobile office. So it might be worth his taking note. The article said:

"On Christmas Eve, a manager approached me to work on Boxing Day and I declined the shift because I had family staying from rural NSW and I don't see them often", she said. "My manager just kept pressuring me saying the money is really good and kept going till I finally said 'OK, I'll work'."

The manager suggested that the lady could work fewer hours on Boxing Day as a compromise, but when the day came she was asked to work even more hours. She claimed:

"They said the money was really good and I shouldn't turn it down, but I said the money wasn't worth it and I had family to see."

The independent review found that:

… half of store owners and managers were not aware that working on Boxing Day is a voluntary act and that coercing someone is an offence.

 As previous speakers have noted, the review into Boxing Day trading conducted by Percy Allan found that 22 per cent of retail workers were coerced by their bosses into working on Boxing Day. A survey conducted by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, the trade union covering retail workers, found this figure to be as high as 40 per cent. Whichever figure one goes by, this is an alarming statistic by any standard and represents thousands of retail workers and their families—predominantly young people, single mums and others—missing out on crucial family time over the precious Christmas holiday period. The reason behind this is simple.


This bill is the result of the Government fundamentally failing to understand the reality of working in an industry like retail, which is highly casualised and has low job security. Whether it is a high school or university student working part-time while studying and who does not know how to say "no", the single mum working a second job at night and who is worried about getting enough shifts, or the older worker feeling the pressure of keeping up with younger colleagues, all of these vulnerable workers will feel compelled to work on public holidays when asked to do so by their employer. [Extension of time]


These changes should not be considered in a vacuum. This is an industry that after relentless attacks, from our colleagues in the Federal Parliament as well, has just seen massive cuts in penalty rates that will see thousands of workers across Australia lose up to $77 per week. I draw a parallel between the two because those who work on Boxing Day will be paid a penalty rate. There is a major socio‑economic debate to be had around these issues and the pressures that people in these industries will face—which we in this place will not. That is the reality.


Members on this side of the Chamber know well that there is no end to the conservatives' attacks on the rights of workers in this State and across the nation, in disregard of the plight of their prosperity. These workers will not give up, and we will stand with them shoulder to shoulder all the way. Earlier this year in Canberra the Federal Government stripped away penalty rates for retail, fast food and hospitality workers, who sacrifice their evenings and weekends to staff shops and restaurants for the enjoyment of others. Today in this place the conservatives are underhandedly trying to force these same workers to give up their time on Boxing Day, with no regard for the disastrous consequences it will have on families over the valuable Christmas holiday period.


I have no doubt that in the future they will come after the penalty rates of people who work on Boxing Day and other holidays, acting on the orders of their mates in Australia's biggest businesses. We on this side have a simple message: we will not give the conservatives one inch. We will stand with these workers, we will stand with the students, and we will stand with the single mums. We will stand with each and every worker who has no voice. We will be their voice in this place. We will proudly stand in solidarity with the other associations and the union movement to defend the rights and conditions of working people in New South Wales, whether it is the retail industry that the Government attacks today or another industry that the Government decides to attack tomorrow.


I urge all members to think long and hard about what these changes will mean to families in their electorate. I urge them to think about the situations I raised earlier: the high school or university student working part-time while studying, the single mum working a second job at night, or the older, semi-retired worker doing a few shifts a week. Before they vote on this bill, I urge members to think about how they would feel if they were being forced to give up their precious family time to work over the Christmas holiday period. We in this place do not work on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Although I am not much of a punter, I am willing to bet that no member in this place will be working in their electorate office over the Christmas holiday period. If it is good enough for us as legislators to have that time off with our families, then it is good enough for every other working man and woman in this State. We oppose the bill. I commend members on this side of the House for standing up for their local constituents, the workers in this State and the local economy, and for supporting the principles of fairness and equality.