The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has outlined its five key strategic demands for all parties, following two particularly tough years for the retail industry.
Its demands look at small business recovery, sustainability, supply chain resilience, labour and skills shortages, and inclusive and equitable workplaces.
“From the conflict in Europe to supply chain and chronic labour and skills pressures, rising inflation and unprecedented climate events such as the local flooding – the outcome of this year’s election will set the national agenda for decades to come,” said ARA CEO Paul Zahra.
“We’ve turned a corner on Covid, but it’s left an abundance of business challenges in its wake including our biggest ever disruptor – climate change. The business community needs evidence that all parties are approaching these challenges with a long-term, strategic mindset.”
Skills and labour shortages
The ARA’s first demand is to address skills and labour shortages in Australia by increasing the pool of candidates. It recommends retaining 40-hour work flexibility for international students and increasing the time period for working holiday visa makers.
It also suggests broadening employment opportunities for marginalised communities like older Australians, iIndigenous people, recent migrants, and people living with a disability.
To boost retail growth, the ARA advocates vocational training and career pathways to jobseekers outside the ages of 18 and 24 years old, expanding programs for existing workers to upskill and progress, and expanding the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa (TSS) to include hard-to-fill roles in fields like digital with a pathway to permanent residency.
Supply chain resilience
After supply chain disruptions impacted economies around the world in the last 12-18 months, the ARA advocates for reducing red tape at Australia’s ports and increasing transparency and traceability. It suggests expanding support to increase local manufacturing capability to critical supply chains like food and healthcare and incentivising innovation along the supply chain.
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Small business recovery
To build retail resilience, the ARA supports an extension of the SME Recovery Loan Scheme to help with costs, cash flow concerns, and the repayment of debts. Moreover, it advocates for a digital transformation in the sector to address the digital gap and cybersecurity concerns.
“Small businesses feel these impacts more given they do not have the same level of resources or cash reserves to cope with the uncertain economic environment,” Mr Zahra noted. “Whilst retail overall is performing well, recovery remains elusive for some including CBD retailers, travel retail, hair and beauty, hospitality and small businesses who require a level of ongoing targeted support.”
In accordance with the ARA’s Net-zero Roadmap to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the ARA has identified opportunities for a low-carbon, circular Australian economy.
This can be done by incentivising investments in sustainable technologies and solutions along with providing educational resources and increasing awareness among SMEs. It also suggests expanding the Recycling Modernisation Fund to improve in the segregation of waste, help retailers and consumers connect with circular solutions, and develop markets for recycled content.
Equitable and inclusive workplaces
As a sector that employs one in ten Australians, diversity and inclusion remains a core priority for retailers and the ARA. Its demands towards this goal are cost-effective access to childcare for working families and flexibility in work arrangements for parents returning to the workplace. It also advocates improved financial independence of women, both working and after retirement.
Mr Zahra explained, ““You cannot have an economic recovery without a retail recovery and the ARA’s five strategic priorities require attention from both major parties as part of their election platforms. “Regardless of which party forms government next month, we’ll continue to advocate for the interests of our retail members on the issues that are important to them.”
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