Fitness industry builds muscle through work perks
ActewAGL workers Jess Brown (right) Tracey McRoberts (background, on ball) have the use of the Fitness First gym in the Canberra Centre as an employment perk. Photo: Colleen Petch
Canberra's skills shortage has benefited one industry - local gyms.
Business is booming in response to health subsidies and discounted gym memberships paid by employers desperate to retain staff.
The ACT boasts more fitness professionals per capita than any other state or territory.
According to a report by industry body Fitness Australia released in January, in the ACT there were three fitness professionals per 1000 people.
By comparison, in NSW, the state with the second-greatest number, it was fewer than two.
Twenty-hour hour gym franchise Anytime Fitness has eight gyms in Canberra, including two, in Jamison and Kingston, which opened towards the end of last year and a further four in Lanyon, Charnwood, Chisholm and Crace are to open soon.
ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Chris Peters said discounted and free gym memberships and subsidy programs offered by workplaces, including several government departments, were contributing significantly to a large and growing number of gyms in the capital.
Canberra employees of at least five federal government departments can access health and fitness subsidies or discounted gym memberships, and several large private employers also offer benefits.
All ActewAGL employees are given free gym memberships, along with individual health and fitness assessments and other health benefits.
Dr Peters said a skills shortage in Canberra meant both public and private employers were hoping to retain staff through benefit programs, and providing subsidised or free gym memberships was a relatively inexpensive way for employers to show their appreciation to workers.
"These types of things like subsidised gyms, or people coming to the workplace to provide massage, is increasing significantly, and that's a major player in what's driving the rejuvenation of the gym market," he said.
The Department of Veterans' Affairs offers its employees a reimbursable healthy lifestyle subsidy of up to $275 a year, which can be used to cover the costs of health and fitness activities.
Treasury employees can access discounted gym and health club memberships to Fernwood, Alive Health and Fitness, Canberra Olympic Pool and Health Club, Pro-Fit Gym and the Southern Cross Health Club, through the department's health and wellbeing program. A spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education said that under its 2011 enterprise agreement, employees can access a yearly subsidy of up to $200 for "health-related lifestyle expenses", including gym memberships.
"The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education recognises that healthy employees are more productive, and actively promotes employee activities which lead to a healthy lifestyle," the spokesperson said.
Additionally, social clubs at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Department of Human Services, offer members discounted gym memberships.
Dr Peters said the growing number of gyms also reflected an increased interest in health and fitness within the community, partially caused by government campaigns promoting exercise.
But he said there was a risk that too many gyms would open too quickly, and subsequently close. "It's a matter of making the sure the locations are right,'' he said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 20 per cent of people in the ACT took part in aerobics, fitness or gym activities in 2010, a greater portion of the population than in any other state or territory and more than the national average of 14 per cent.