It is likely that you or someone you know has a painful anecdote about the absurdity of working over the Christmas holiday season. The storyline tells of an understaffed team, and stress-inducing customers. Preventable accidents are rampant, and there is never enough of the popular stock. Plus, there is always one customer out to make the day even more difficult. It’s debatable whether customers or the mass media realise all the crap retail workers have to deal with on the front line of a consumer-ruled Christmas.
Retail workers are supposedly given some choice as to whether they come in at 6:30 am. There is, however, an unspoken obligation to turn up and stay in the manager’s good books, keeping the possibility of future shifts as a casual worker, at the cost of the privilege of spending the holiday season with family and friends. Sure, many of the community are still working over the holiday period, but the possibility of receiving annual leave to spend a week or two with grandma over Christmas is slimmer if your job description happens to be ‘retail assistant.’
Juicy titles such as, “Boxing Day Frenzy: Hundreds Flock to Sales”, as reported by The Daily Telegraph, pop up on the day. We scoff over them as we scroll through Facebook, feeling incredibly smug that we are not desperate enough to line up for hours to be first in the door. These ignorant titles mock the hard-working shop assistants, while giving free advertising for leading retail outlets.
Retail outlets, as estimated by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), expected gains to reach $2.4 billion on Boxing Day alone. Money that fills the coffers of the CEOs, board members and investors of the major retail outlets who most likely were still spending the 26th of December on holiday. The main argument that working Boxing Day is good for retail workers is that they receive penalty rates. However, they are a poor excuse for the terrible treatment of retail workers during the holiday period.
Baby boomers may berate me for complaining, typically reminding me that, they had it harder when they were my age. You know what Susan, you most likely did, but that doesn’t mean that the treatment of Australia’s retail workers today is A-OK. Recent cuts to penalty rates aside, improvements have been made over the years concerning ‘appropriate’ pay, regulation and recognition of workers’ rights. Despite this, retail workers are still treated like third class citizens by customers and employers.
How many retail workers know the full extent of their rights? They’re hidden amongst the papers we sign at the beginning of our jobs, overwhelming us with legal jargon. Although it should not be up to you alone to protect your rights in any sort of profession, the information is out there. It is as simple as cruising through the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website to find where your employer can go wrong.
While it is easy to complain about unfair situations, it is hard to find a solution that doesn’t leave you jobless. There needs to be a call for tighter restrictions on working hours, especially during busy shopping periods. Paid workshops for stress management and clearer promotion of the rights of retail workers.
Don’t take your holiday stress out on retail workers.
My advice? As a consumer, don’t take your holiday stress out on retail workers. The person serving you at the register has most likely had a long, gruelling day. Their manager has repeatedly asked them to stay back because someone has called in sick at the last minute, or their lunch break has been illegally cut short because the store is overwhelmed with customers. Be kind and considerate to those that rarely get the recognition that they deserve over the holiday period.
As a retail worker, stand up for yourself. Large companies would rather do the right thing if you demand it than face bad press. Learn to say no. If you simply do not want to work longer than the five hours you were rostered on for, then don’t. Finally, learn your rights before your employer has the time to take advantage of you.