Sunday 11 October 2015

To Work...Or Not To Work

A long term trader stopped me in the aisle yesterday to complain about being charged rent for not trading on a public holiday. His complaint was a simple one but it goes to the whole question of business work ethic and family commitment.

The public holiday in question was the new Grand Final Eve Friday that has received so much attention in the press. The trader was complaining that a public holiday is a family day and that he should be allowed to spend time with his family away from the market. Incidentally, Grand Final Eve public holiday was declared a normal working day at the market with support from the majority of traders.

I asked this trader why he didn’t just take a day’s leave (he is a PE Trader on a daily license) and he said he had run out of Fridays. All of a sudden I knew what the problem was here. PE Traders are given 8 weeks leave per year and he had used all his 8 Fridays. There is little doubt that the retail recession has made it more likely for traders to take their leave. I asked this trader if he would have taken the Friday off in the good times when sales were plentiful and he refused to answer. I am taking that as a “No”.

Traders making attendance choices based on expected sales is not unusual. The 8 weeks leave system was introduced to counter the actions of some long term traders who only traded during busy times. Some traders used to only trade 3 months per year – November, December and January. They would rock up each November to claim their preferred position in the allocation queue, make the most of the busiest trading time of year, and then depart again at the end of January. Clearly that was unacceptable to those traders who had put in all year and often couldn’t get a stall in peak times.

Spending time with your family is important but it is impacted by many issues including the work ethic strains of running a small business particularly in retail. I am unashamedly biased on this subject. I have never felt that working at the QVM has compromised my life with my family or that very important role of bringing up children. My children have been successful in their careers and family lives despite being subjected to an onerous work ethic involving 4 days of manufacturing followed by 3 days of market trading. They were brought up on a diet of early morning starts, boring times hanging around the stall, and restricted attendance at family events – but have thrived.

My skin specialist, who happens to be an Associate Professor, fondly talks about his childhood amongst the pallets of the fruit & vegetable stall his parents operated at QVM. He remembers the important life and business lessons he learned during those times. These are only anecdotal references from earlier times, but hopefully things haven’t changed so much. I would like your thoughts.

But back to the real question – is it right to reduce trading at QVM (make absences more accessible) because times are tough? I am not down-grading the family aspect but the real issue here is excellence in retail delivery to our customers and how we maintain that excellence no matter what the sales environment. And just to really throw the cat amongst the pigeons – how is it that one of the three public holidays that we do not trade on, is one of Melbourne’s busiest days of retailing (Boxing Day)? My inner voice says "Shut-up Greg - we must protect that one."

Greg Smith - QVMAC Trader Representative