Major Australian retailers are closing their brick and mortar stores as coronavirus foreclosure measures intensify.
Retailers Country Road, Mimco, Politix, Trenery and Witchery followed Myer in announcing the store closings.
The retail team, owned by South African company Woolworths Holdings, announced the temporary store closures until further notice on Saturday.
Friday, Myer was to close its Sunday evening stores for at least four weeks.
The announcements of store closings could already be felt in the Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, the shopping area was empty except for a handful of customers who looked into stores like Myer before closing next month.
At least 10,000 workers will be affected.
“Since the team members will not be working, they will not be paid during this closed period,” said Myer in a statement on ASX.
“Full-time and part-time members will have greater flexibility to access their vacation and long-service leave rights, in addition to government assistance measures.”
Russell Zimmerman of the Australian Retailers Association says stores like Myer have no choice.
“Most retailers tell me that they have lost about 75% or more of their sales,” he said.
“Now you cannot support a retail business in this environment.”
Rival retail giant David Jones, who also belongs to Woolworths, will keep all but two stores open for now.
“As an Australian heritage brand, we recognize that we have an important role to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Country Road general manager Elle Roseby said in an online statement.
The two stores in question – Barangaroo, Sydney and James St, Brisbane – only closed because the retail space is too small to allow adequate social distancing.
David Jones says he will continue to evaluate his decision to stay open every day.
On Saturday morning, the retail trade union, SDA, estimated that 40,000 jobs in the retail trade had been lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are tens and thousands of jobs to be created in the retail trade if we move to the next level of closure, which is very likely,” said SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer.
Dwyer says retail businesses are affected on all fronts.
“Online trading will continue in a series of businesses, but when it comes to stock, this is one of the main problems in the area of discretionary spending,” he said.
“When that passes, this stock will be out of season.”
The SDA and the Australian Retailers Association have joined the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in calling on the government to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and introduce a wage subsidy.
This would mean that workers would receive a percentage of their regular wages from their employers to keep them informed and out of social assistance.
The companies would then be reimbursed by the government.
“A wage subsidy helps workers, helps their families, gives them hope and in fact keeps them connected to their businesses so that this economy can revive when this pandemic is over,” said Mr. Dwyer.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce wants an 80% wage subsidy, capped at average weekly earnings.
The SDA says it is happy to negotiate on this figure, as long as wage subsidies are introduced.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said new announcements to help businesses were imminent.