An owner of iconic retail brands ranging from Peter Alexander to Smiggle has hit out at the nation's shopping centres, questioning their handling of the public safety threat posed by Covid-19.
Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) executive director and Premier Retail CEO Mark McInnes issued a statement today criticising shopping mall owners in general, but it also took aim at Westfield centres owner Scentre Group (ASX: SCG).
"This issue is very real for Premier Retail - we have had two incidents in Scentre Group's Carindale mall where our team members were exposed to COVID-19-positive customers, and in both instances, when Scentre was notified, they took no action," McInnes alleges.
"We were made aware of these incidents by the affected customers themselves and the Queensland Health Department.
"We then notified Scentre, who to our knowledge took no steps to notify the other tenants, customers or the community of Carindale that positive COVID-19 cases had been shopping in the mall."
McInnes emphasises the deadly nature of the virus and claims "it is unacceptable for landlords to play roulette with the lives of retail employees and customers by not doing everything they can to protect them".
"We made the toughest decision to close our stores and stand down our team yesterday because we could not allow our team members, our customers and their families to continue to take the risk posed by our continued trading," he says.
"We agree with the statements made by the Prime Minister and the State Premiers and our Chief Medical Officers that everyone must limit their movements to the maximum extent possible in order to protect each other and our fellow citizens.
"At the same time, we know that the economic impacts of the closures forced by COVID-19 are real, especially for our team members who we have had to stand down."
He says these team members are feeling the economic pain, as are all hard-working Australians who have found themselves inexplicably standing in a Centrelink queue this week.
"Many senior business leaders are setting the right example by suspending their pay and entitlements during the shutdown," he says.
"The Premier Board and senior management team have done this so that we share the pain and show our team that we are all in this together.
"Australian shareholders are feeling the pain through the decline in values of their investments, as are millions of Australian superannuees. Many companies have also suspended their dividend payments to preserve capital, and Premier has extended its own dividend payment as a prudent measure."
McInnes also issued the following questions for Australia's retail landlords:
- Why are your shopping centres open when the Prime Minister has asked all Australians to stay at home and the Premier of Victoria rightly says no shopping trip is worth risking a life?
- What OHS systems and medical systems did you put in place to ensure nobody entering your shopping centre had coronavirus for the safety of retail employees who are asked to serve them?
- What actions have you taken with the relevant health authorities to screen customers entering your shopping centres?
- Where you have been made aware of infected customers and workers entering your shopping centres, have you taken all steps to advise all your tenants, all your customers and the entire local community of the risk?
- Knowing the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 health restrictions on trade, what financial assistance have you offered your retail tenants to keep people employed in the short and long term?
- Have all landlords across Australia reported to their customers and communities all instances where COVID-19-positive reported cases have visited a shopping centre?
In a response, a Scentre Group spokesperson said its retail partners and centre management followed the correct Queensland Health protocols at Westfield Carindale.
"The Queensland Health advice was these individuals posed no risk to any customers, retailers or employees," the spokesperson said.
"As a precaution, the relevant retailers closed their stores temporarily for deep cleaning. Centre management also conducted additional cleaning."
Updated at 3:09pm AEDT on 27 March 2020.
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