The boss of department store Kmart has taken a swipe at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, saying the “massive extension” to the lockdown was a “complete surprise” to retailers that had left their staff “frustrated”.
Managing Director of Kmart group Ian Bailey said the retail sector was not consulted about what he called the “extended forced closure” and Kmart stores will likely have been closed for three months before they can welcome customers in again.
The terse comments came in a statement from Kmart, which also owns Target and website Catch, where it committed to paying pay staff who “through no fault of their own,” cannot work due to the continuing coronavirus restrictions.
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On Sunday, Premier Andrews announced Victoria’s “road map to reopening” which will see some restrictions eased off from next week.
There had been hope that shops would be able to reopen with a COVID-safe plan in place.
However, non-essential businesses will have to keep their doors closed until October 26. While supermarkets, chemists, petrol stations and bottle shops are on the essential list, almost every other retailer has to remain shut.
The proposed date for reopening could also be pushed back if the threshold of fewer than five cases per day in the state is not met. That feat has not been achieved in New South Wales where all shops have been able to open for months.
Mr Bailey said “the Victorian Government’s road map for reopening the state economy announced last Sunday took the retail sector and Kmart Group by complete surprise.”
“We were not provided with any forewarning in relation to the massive extension to the continued closure of retail trading that was announced.
“Best case scenarios will see our stores closed in metro Melbourne for a minimum of 12 weeks. This is unprecedented for the Kmart Group – and retail trading – in Melbourne.”
He urged the Victorian Government to take a “holistic approach” to the restrictions.
“We will continue to encourage the Government to support all businesses and individuals that have sacrificed so much during this pandemic.”
The Kmart MD’s comments echo those of Australian Retailers Association Chief Executive Paul Zahra. The former boss of David Jones told the National Press Club on Tuesday that “consultation sessions” with the sector from the Victorian Government had seemed more like “information sessions,” according to reports in The Australian.
“We believed that we were asking for a progressive reopening in retail, and what we got was a delayed reopening.
“As a result most of our members are small business, and we believe around 50 per cent of those small businesses in Victoria will permanently close,” Mr Zahra said.
Mr Bailey said staff at Kmart, which is part of Wesfarmers, were taking the restrictions hard.
“We know the extended forced closure of our metro Melbourne stores is a source of concern and frustration for team members across our distribution centres, national office and of course in the stores themselves.”
Since the lockdown began in Melbourne, Kmart has retained and paid all permanent staff their full wage. Casual staff who worked more than 12 hours were paid for equivalent of their regularly worked hours.
“We made this commitment despite our business not qualifying for JobKeeper, nor receiving any substantive COVID-19 government support, and because we felt supporting our team, by alleviating a financial burden, was the right thing to do,” Mr Bailey said.
The company will now extend these pay arrangements until October 26.
“Kmart Group has gone to considerable expense as a business to provide this support because we recognise how important it is to stand by our team members who, through no fault of their own, are unable to work.”
While Kmart and Target stores are closed, online deliveries continue to take place and click and collect is available from branches.