Yesterday saw the launch of the "Small Business – Too Big to Ignore" campaign at Sydney Olympic park. The campaign represents a rare unification of all of the small business chambers in Australia to fight for common issues. We were fortunate enough to be in attendance at the breakfast where it was evident that many people felt, as we do, that small business is hard done by. Panelists included café owner Angela Vithoulkas who is now a City of Sydney councilor and several other prominent small business owners along with the respective Business Chamber CEOs.
Some of the key issues that arose revolved around the lack of input small business had in government. The result has been bureaucrat led legislation which has negatively impacted small businesses. Small businesses employ 7 million people nationally, making us the largest collective employer in the country with roughly 60% of the workforce. Facts such as this highlight that businesses hire people not governments. To that end we should be afforded a higher degree of autonomy from the government and regulators.
There is a definite feeling that both sides of politics have been ignoring small businesses. This is largely attributable to the fact that there are roughly 2 million in Australia, each with their own individual voice. Campaigns such as this bring all of the disparate elements of the small business community together to have one voice. Problems will undoubtedly arise as key campaign issues are prioritized over others, yet so far the campaign is gaining steady pace.
Something that my company OneShift will be campaigning for is a fair penalty rate system. Under the current legislation small businesses are simply not opening on public holidays and weekends. This is for fear of losing money as they are forced to pay upwards of double time. Penalty rates are an important aspect of shift work and they don't deserve to be removed in their entirety, however they must be capped at a sensible level to allow for businesses to survive as well – otherwise the jobs will disappear altogether!
It would also be another hope, not just for us but for the entire small business community that the next government has an enduring Minister for Small Business. Under the current government we have had 6 small business Ministers in as many years. The result is a lack of traction and partnerships with the community, since we constantly have to deal with someone new. The next small business Minister must have a good understanding of how small businesses operate, or at least be willing to work in close cooperation with those who do to start brining in some proactive legislation.
Because we don't have such a presence in government we end up with policy such as Experience+ which awards businesses a $1000 lump sum for hiring someone over 50 for more than 13 weeks. A prominent member of the NSW Business Council remarked to me that he 'did not know of anyone who had used the scheme'. The problem is that small businesses hire on average less than 10 people, so when they do hire it's for skills not a one off payment. Instead of supporting such a scheme, the $55 million set aside for the assistance package should be redirected into up-skilling or training courses to help older people learn marketable skills.
On the other side of the spectrum small businesses are integral to helping lower youth unemployment. A lack of flexibility in the job market has excluded high percentages of young people from finding employment. According to the ABS in September 2012 there were 67 300 'young people' (15-19yrs old) actively looking for full-time work, an increase of 2500 from August. This equates to a 25.1% unemployment rate for young job seekers, five times the national unemployment rate of ~5%. This high unemployment reflects a lack of business confidence in the market, as they are constantly smothered by new legislation and weakening economic conditions. Because small business control ~60% of the job market in Australia, healthy small business will mean low unemployment, especially for our young people.
As Stephen Cartwright, CEO of the NSW Business Chamber remarked, "trying to change mindsets, particularly those of politicians, is not an easy job". This campaign is the result of continuously negative treatment of small business by the government. I just hope that the vast number of businesses involved can stay focused on a few key manageable policy objectives. Stephen continues "as the representative of the business community in NSW, I am definitely up for the good fight." Lets hope that his, along with the other 2 million small business owners resolve do not falter between now and September.
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