Boxing Day trading: Hunter MPs criticised for 'dancing to the union tune'

SHOP TIL YOU DROP: Shoppers snagging a bargain at Boxing Day sales at Westfield Kotara.

SHOP TIL YOU DROP: Shoppers snagging a bargain at Boxing Day sales at Westfield Kotara.

SCOT MacDonald has slammed Labor MPs over Boxing Day trading rules, saying calls to wind them back are damaging to the Hunter’s economy.

The parliamentary secretary for the Hunter was speaking after several Hunter MPs joined members of the retail workers’ union on Wednesday to protest against Boxing Day trading laws, which allow retailers to open on December 26, so long as employees are given the option of turning down the day’s work.

But Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association Newcastle branch secretary Barbara Nebart claimed employers were exploiting the law, which is only in its second year, to force “thousands” of Hunter shop assistants to work when they would rather be at home.

The Hunter should not be a second-rate commercial and retail environment. - Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald

Ms Nebart cited a 2015 union survey that found a quarter of those surveyed “did not freely elect to work”.

“When you’ve worked your heart out in the lead-up to Christmas … you need Boxing Day to have a rest before it all starts again at the sales,” she said.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association believes many retail workers are coerced into a Boxing Day shift.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association believes many retail workers are coerced into a Boxing Day shift.

“The Baird Government is out of touch with the mums and dads of NSW. Do they honestly think there are thousands of retail workers begging to give up their family time in the Christmas break to go to work?”

However, Mr MacDonald criticised Ms Nebart and Labor for “dancing to the union tune”. “I have not seen any evidence or complaints that people have been coerced into work,” he said, adding that successful complaints attracted a maximum $11,000 penalty on employers.

Mr MacDonald said scrapping the law would give the advantage to Sydney malls.

“The Hunter should not be a second-rate commercial and retail environment; they should have the         same    opportunities,” he said. “Boxing Day shopping is very popular … if they can’t shop in the Hunter, significant business would travel outside the area.”

Wallsend Labor MP Sonia Hornery said it was “ridiculous” to suggest workers could turn down a shift without consequences.

“Casual employees are no longer offered shifts, people are overlooked for future opportunities, or workers are threatened with the sack,” Ms Hornery said.

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