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THE Victorian government under Daniel Andrews, as part of a reopening of all retailing, has finally moved to allow Melbourne dealerships to open their doors to car buyers once more.

Stage Four restrictions were introduced in early August with Melbourne dealerships locked down from selling vehicles for nearly three months while dealerships in regional Victoria and all other states were open for business.

During this time the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) has been in constant contact with Spring Street to demonstrate that car retailers could operate in a COVID-safe manner using similar rules to the real estate industry which was allowed to conduct inspections and auctions.

But Spring Street would not budge.

Daniel Andrews

Now, with Stage Four restrictions wound back to Stage Three, car retailers in the Melbourne metropolitan area will be able to return to selling motor vehicles and farm equipment.

The VACC said that automotive businesses are permitted to reopen as of Wednesday 28 October, with no limits on the work performed, provided a COVIDSafe Plan is in place.

The whole of Victoria will move from ‘stay home’ to ‘stay safe’ measures – meaning there are no longer restrictions on the reasons to leave home.

Retail businesses have been given the green light to begin preparations for a COVID-safe reopening, with staff now permitted to be on-site to ready businesses.

Although Victoria is set to move into the third stage of the state government roadmap to reopening and well on the way to COVID-normal operations, it is important to remain vigilant.

Every Victorian business that is open must follow six rules to help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19. These include:

  • Ensure physical distancing
  • Wear a face mask
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Keep records and act quickly
  • Avoid interactions in enclosed spaces
  • Create workforce bubbles.

Other important considerations:

  • Work from home if you can
  • The 25km radius limitation is still in place.

The VACC said that it was reviewing the rules under which dealers would operate but retailers should use the guidelines the chamber put to the government on how the sector might run its showrooms.

VACC CEO Geoff Gwilym told GoAutoNews Premium that motor vehicle and farm equipment dealers should “use the extra operational protections that we put to government because we do not want to be responsible for a cluster.

“We urge that they really follow the details or the advice that we put in that document. We just want to make sure that we are responsible in the way we’re doing our business,” he said.

“We have to ensure that we are not the ones who contribute to another shutdown. That’s absolutely vital. We kept telling the government that we are sophisticated and that we are ready, and we are able to do this. Well let’s make sure we do it properly.

“We might have to take a few little pain points here and there, like solo test drives, appointments and so on, just showing that our model actually does work. We want our members to make this their preferred option until a vaccine has been introduced. We are sophisticated enough to do this.

“My message to our members is that we cannot have this sector closed down ever again. We cannot have an open and closed scenario like New Zealand went through.

“If someone gets it wrong then we don’t want it to be us. We want to show that we are better and smarter and more sophisticated. So let’s use all those arguments we put to the government  and let’s show them why they will work,” Mr Gwilym said.

With car retailing able to reopen from Wednesday, 28 October, the VACC issued to members the following guidelines based on frequently asked questions (FAQ) from members. The chamber emphasised that the advice provided in the answers is subject to change by the Victorian Government in the release of their guidance.

The VACC said the government guidance is usually released by the Government at 11:59pm on each business day and that if there were any updates to this advice the VACC would advise members in an industry bulletin.

All advice provided in the FAQs below is contingent upon each business / dealership having a COVID Safe Plan in place that strictly follows the COVID Safe principles, which remain applicable for all businesses. No COVID Safe Plan means you cannot open.

What automotive retail industry sectors can open?

All retail automotive can open.  You must have a COVID Safe Plan in place that strictly follows the COVID Safe principles mandating that you:

  1. must ensure physical distancing
  2. must wear a face mask
  3. must practice good hygiene
  4. must keep thorough records and act quickly if staff become unwell
  5. should avoid interactions in enclosed spaces
  6. should create workforce bubbles

To limit the number of people who may gather at your business at any one time you must also implement the ‘four square metre rule’.  i.e. no more than one patron per four square metres of available floor space in your premises.

Do we have to wear masks?

  • Yes. Staff and consumers must wear a fully fitted facial mask.

What staff capacity can each business have?

  • VACC has been advised by the Victorian Government that all automotive retailers can open with 100 per cent staff capacity. VACC therefore awaits an update to the Workplace (Additional Industry Obligations) Directions (No 9) for confirmation of this advice, meaning that the 33 per cent reduction in workforce capacity requirements for retail facilities no longer applies.

Can staff return to work on site?

  • Yes.  This is your decision.  Where you deem it not reasonably practicable for a staff member to fulfil their duties at home, you can direct them to return to work.

Can we open our customer waiting lounge?

  • Yes, you can open your customer waiting lounges and other consumer facing amenities.
  • To limit the number of people who may gather in a waiting area at one time, you must allow entry to no more than one patron per four square metres of available floor space in their premises.

Can we open our dealership showrooms?

  • Yes, you can open your dealership showrooms.
  • To limit the number of people who may gather in a waiting area at one time, you must allow entry to no more than one patron per four square metres of available floor space in their premises.

Can we do test drives?

  • Yes, you can do test drives.
  • VACC would urge you to allow consumers to conduct test drives without a staff member.
  • If this is not possible a 1.5m physical distancing and wearing of face masks must be adhered to.

Are we still required to issue Permitted Worker Permits?

  • VACC has been advised by the Victorian Government that Permitted Worker Permits are no longer required (unless worker is travelling from Melbourne to regional Victoria, or vice versa). However, under the updated Permitted Worker Permit Scheme Directions (No 8) – which took effect from 3:00pm yesterday – a Permitted Worker Permit is still required (unless the worker is getting a business ready for reopening).
  • VACC expects this situation to change imminently.

What must my COVID Safe Plan set out?

  1. Your actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
  2. The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your workforce
  3. How you will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
  4. The plan must demonstrate how you will meet all of the requirements set out by the Victorian Government.

It is important that your COVID Safe Plan is current and an accurate reflection of what measures your business has in place. Organisations with multiple worksites must complete a COVID Safe Plan for each worksite.

VACC members are encouraged to consider implementing further measures where appropriate, such as those stated in the VADA COVID-19 Protective Plan & Implementation Automotive Retail Franchise Sector Guidance & Best Practice.

VACC and VADA members must remain vigilant to all requirements and adopt a view of not being responsible for an ‘outbreak’ or be an epicentre for a COVID cluster. The last thing we need is for the Government to issue further shutdown directions.

Geoff Gwilym

By John Mellor

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