Business leaders have slammed a decision to keep Melbourne retailers shut for up to a further two weeks, arguing it will prolong the pain for businesses that were already hanging by a thread.
The announcement comes as a blow for a sector already hampered by a recent 12.6 per cent drop in spending.
And with roughly one in 10 city workers losing their jobs since the onset of the pandemic, the delay has been criticised by retail and hospitality leaders.
Tim Piper, the Victorian head of national employer association Ai Group, told The New Daily the ongoing ban on retail activity was bewildering, considering the “immense sacrifices Victorians have made”.
Mr Piper said some small businesses have been unable to trade for seven months of lockdowns, with the lack of certainty taking an emotional and mental toll.
“From a business perspective, very little has happened,” Mr Piper said.
“Retail is kind of open, manufacturers are not going to open any more than they had, restrictions in regional Victoria have been maintained and there’s no certainty over what will happen these next two weeks.”
Beyond the restart of retail activity, Mr Piper urged the state government to abolish payroll tax on the first $10 million of every business’ payroll to help facilitate cash flow in their post-lockdown recovery.
With businesses also required to implement a COVID-safe strategy, he said it would help companies “stomach the costs” of introducing risk mitigation strategies.
“The government should look to supporting businesses in recognising how they can take these steps and help them to ensure they are as efficient as possible,” Mr Piper said.
The outcry comes as some small business owners received a welcome dose of good news, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday announcing the following businesses can reopen from October 19:
- Hairdressing and barbers
- Pet grooming (both contactless on-site and mobile groomers)
- Non-essential home maintenance (including home renovations, painting and repairs, with a maximum of five on-site workers)
- Car washing (automatic standalone car washing, single person or self-service car washing only)
- Outdoor photography (for purposes other than what was already permitted under previous restrictions)
- Outdoor auctions would also be permitted (capped at 10 people, plus staff), along with the return of all allied health services and increases to the capacity of abattoirs and food processing facilities.
Rules for hospitality businesses in regional Victoria will also be relaxed from Monday, with 40 patrons allowed indoors and 70 people outdoors.
But Melbourne’s retailers, publicans and restaurateurs will experience a frustrating fortnight before reopening their doors on November 2.
That’s despite the state’s initial roadmap out of lockdown declaring those businesses would recommence trading on October 26.
Mr Andrews flagged the new timeframe may be brought forward, depending on whether the state meets certain benchmarks.
But the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the “wait and see approach” was “disappointing”, suggesting the NSW’s reopening model demonstrated a “sensible middle ground”.
This is an inexplicable and unacceptable delay for Victorians and small businesses who are hanging on by a day, not a week,” Ms Westacott said.
“There is no sound reason to continue the restrictions on business, especially with case numbers clearly on a downward trajectory.
“Simply being allowed to go for a haircut or outside a bit more when you have no job, no money and your business has failed is just not good enough.”
Under the updated roadmap, retailers can return to prepare their physical stores for trading from October 28, before doors are opened five days later.
Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra applauded the move and said the staged return of stores would allow businesses to capitalise on pent-up demand in the lead up to Christmas.
“Whilst this date is many weeks later than we would have hoped, it is just in time for the official start of the Christmas shopping period and very welcome news for retailers who have been desperately seeking clarity for months,” Mr Zahra said.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra also embraced the updated roadmap, urging Victorians to comply with social distancing and mask-wearing protocol to ensure the swift resumption of retail activity.
“We have already heard from our hospitality and retail operators, and they are desperate to get back to work,” Mr Guerra said.
Now, with the Premier signalling the potential to open even earlier, the Victorian Chamber asks every Victorian to do the right thing so the Premier can announce full re-opening of business next Sunday.”
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) welcomed Sunday’s announcement, suggesting the reintroduction of in-person auctions would breathe new life to the spring selling season.
“It is now time for all of us to start a safe and gradual return to work and rebuild the economy step by step,” REIV President Leah Calnan said,
“This decision is recognition that the real estate profession can be trusted to conduct inspections and auctions in a safe and responsible manner.”