Retail conglomerate Wesfarmers has promised to keep paying workers who cannot work because of COVID-19 – even if it hits their bottom line.
The Bunnings, Kmart and Officeworks owner said on Friday it will spend between $2 to $4 million a week extending an earlier pledge to keep paying workers self-isolating or left with no meaningful work by COVID.
The payments will run until 2022, chief executive Rob Scott said.
“This as an investment that provides much needed certainty to team members, their families and our businesses,” Mr Scott said on Friday.
Bunnings staff isolating
Mr Scott said more than 9000 Bunnings staff have self isolated in recent months as the Delta variant surges in NSW and Victoria, with hundreds of workers calling into the company’s in-house assistance lines.
Many of the calls have been from employees younger than 30, he said.
“That sheds an interesting light – some young people are doing it really tough,” Mr Scott said.
Mr Scott also called for the federal government to increase its financial support in an AFR interview on Friday, days after TND published new analysis finding support levels are not as high as during 2020.
“What I’m most concerned about is the social impact, the economic impact and the mental health impact of prolonged lockdowns,” he said.
Mr Scott’s comments came just a day after Woolworths revealed 3300 of its workers are in self-isolation and three in hospital with COVID-10 amid growing concern essential workers are being exposed to the virus.
NSW has unveiled plans to force supermarket and food workers living in Sydney hot spots to get vaccines or undertake regular COVID-19 tests.
Delta hammers retail
Wesfarmers reported a strong full year financial result on Friday, saying net profit after tax rose 14.2 per cent to $2.42 billion in the 2020-21 year.
Sales rose 10 per cent to $33.9 billion on the back of strong growth at its Bunnings, Kmart, Officeworks, Target and Catch of The Day businesses.
But similar to rival Woolworths, sales have deteriorated in recent weeks.
As the Delta rips through NSW and Victoria, retail sales are plummeting.
Retail sales fell 2.7 per cent in July, according to ABS data published on Friday, which also revealed sales were down 3.1 per cent year-on-year.
Sales fell almost 9 per cent in NSW alone amid its extended lockdown.
Clothing, footwear and accessories retailers were the hardest hit, with sales down 15.4 per cent in July.
Wesfarmers businesses have been hit hard during Delta, Mr Scott said.
Kmart and Target sales are down 14.3 per cent in the past two months.
Sales at Bunnings have fallen 4.7 per cent over the past seven weeks, while Officeworks declined 1.5 per cent in the same period, Mr Scott said.
“The impact on household and business confidence is becoming more acute as lockdowns extend,” Wesfarmers told investors on Friday.
Indeed APAC economist Callam Pickering said retail weakness showed the economy will not improve until the threat of COVID is neutralised.
“We may avoid a technical recession but it will certainly look and feel like a recession to businesses and households across NSW and Victoria,” he said on Friday.
“The ongoing weakness across the economy increases the need for stronger near-term fiscal or monetary policy.”