In recent weeks, a new nationwide union has been established for workers in the fast food and retail sectors. The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) has been set up to offer an alternative to the right-wing Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers Association (SDA).
UNITE has been working with the founders of RAFFWU for many years and we wholeheartedly support its establishment. With more resources, and a nationwide reach, RAFFWU is well placed to play a progressive role helping to reintroduce the ideas of fighting unionism into the sector.
With that being the case, UNITE has decided to change the character of our organisation. As of January 1, 2017, we will no longer be providing specific representation to members (with the exception of existing cases) and we will instead operate as a young workers campaign group.
UNITE members and activists will work within RAFFWU, but we will also consider launching our own independent campaigns in the future. We hope to bring our experience and fighting ideas to RAFFWU and to play a constructive role in helping to get this new union off the ground.
We encourage all workers in the fast food and retail sectors to join RAFFWU and to help us build a union that is truly capable of fighting against wealth inequality and the super exploitation of young people in Australia.
UNITE was set up 10 years ago in Victoria as a small union covering workers in the fast food and retail sectors. We specifically focused our efforts on workplaces that were not already organised by the existing Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA).
Over the years we have had some modest successes, including uncovering the half pay scam at 7-Eleven and helping to win hundreds of thousands of dollars for underpaid workers in a wide variety of stores.
UNITE Secretary Anthony Main said: “UNITE started off with a non-confrontational approach towards the SDA. We didn’t initially set out to become a direct rival. We focused on smaller shops where the SDA was not established.
“With the revelations that the SDA has played a role in ripping off hundreds of thousands of workers that situation has now changed.
“We think it’s now time to take on the SDA more directly. While not ignoring the small shops, workers in places like Coles, McDonald’s and Woolworths, need to be offered a fighting alternative.
“UNITE members will be involved in the work of the new Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. We plan on bringing our experience and fighting approach to this new project.
“We will be encouraging our members to join the new union and our activists will be available to help out with campaigns.
“We see this as a very positive development and an extension of the struggle that we have been waging for the past 10 years.
“The fast food and retail giants in this country have been exploiting people for far too long. We want to do all we can to break the collusion between these big firms and the SDA.
“We hope that the broader union movement also gets behind this new project. If it is done right it could help to rejuvenate the worker’s movement as a whole.” Anthony said.
In recent months 7-Eleven’s “half pay scam” has been exposed in the national media.
Under pressure the company was forced to establish an independent wage panel. This panel has so far recovered about $12 million in unpaid wages.
But with an estimated $100 million still to be paid out, 7-Eleven has scrapped the panel and is now proposing a much higher standard of proof be applied to the remaining claims.
This is a blatant attempt to avoid responsibility and to skimp out on paying the workers what they are owed. This should not be accepted.
In late August a joint Fairfax and Four Corners investigation shone a spotlight on one of Australia’s biggest corporate scandals. The convenience store giant 7-Eleven was exposed for being complicit in wage theft worth tens of millions of dollars.
The rort commonly known as the ‘half pay’ scam was first exposed by UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria, back in 2008. At that time UNITE was approached by a group of 7-Eleven workers from Geelong. They complained that the franchisee they worked for was manipulating wage records and underpaying them by half.
In the 6 months leading up to December 2014 supermarket giant Coles made $895,000,000 in pure profit. Despite this Coles are trying to impose a workplace agreement that would ‘standardise’ conditions and see newly employed butchers, meat packers and cabinet attendants paid up to $12,500 less a year.
Perhaps worst of all these moves are being supported by the right-wing Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA). The SDA is in reality a ‘yellow union’ that is in the pocket of the big retail firms.
In recent weeks UNITE has received numerous complaints from 7-Eleven workers across Victoria about not being paid correctly.
It is clear that the double hours scam, exposed by UNITE in 2008, is still being used by many franchisees. This scam means that many workers are only being paid for half the hours they work.
Other complaints we have received include:
-Workers not being paid the legal minimum wage
-Workers not receiving required breaks during their shifts
-Workers not receiving penalty rates for working weekends, late nights and public holidays
-Wages being illegally docked when cash registers don’t balance
In May this year the Coalition released a 14 point plan supposedly to ‘improve’ the Fair Work laws. These laws, introduced by Labor, are so bad that they even violate International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. They are some of the most anti- worker laws in the advanced world.
Make no mistake, the Coalition’s plans are not about rectifying any of the problems with the Fair Work laws. They are about shifting the balance even further in favour of employers. If implemented the 14 point plan would mean even more restrictions on unions and the winding back of workers rights.
Bakers Delight is attempting to lock workers into low pay under a new non union agreement. Workers could potentially receive no penalty rates on weekends or public holidays. A 16 year old could end up working just a 1.5 hour shift for as little as $13.35, barely enough to cover the cost of transport to and from work.
In 2010 Bakers Delight workers at the Diamond Creek, St Helena and Laurimar stores in Melbourne’s northern suburbs organised with UNITE to win Award rates of pay and penalty rates. This latest development is an attempt to circumvent these gains and to cut across the ability of workers to organise to win better pay and conditions.
6 months and you’re permanent!
In the past month the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been conducting an inquiry into casual work. The aim of the inquiry was to collect information from workers, unions, community groups and academics about the conditions of casual, temporary and contracted workers.
It looks at which types of workers fall into the insecure work category, the effects it has on people’s lives, their families and the community as a whole. It also looks at the wide range of entitlements these workers are missing out on.
Around 40% of the entire workforce is employed on an insecure basis. This figure continues to rise by the day. Compared to other advanced countries, the percentage of population employed on an insecure basis is second only to Spain.
Recently there has been a lot of pressure from big business to cut penalty rates. These calls are an attack on the wages of many workers, especially those who work in hospitality, fast food and retail. Penalty rates are higher rates of pay you must be paid for when you work nights, weekends and public holidays. Penalty rates compensate for the anti-social hours that people have to work. If penalty rates are cut, it will affect everyone that works nights, weekends and public holidays. This is a direct attack on the already low pay that workers in these industries get.
UNITE members at the Carlton Club in Melbourne’s CBD have won secure jobs for every single worker in the establishment. After months of anti-union bullying the persistence of the bartenders has paid off.
UNITE members, organisers and activists have been down at the Baiada Poultry picket line, supporting striking factory workers in their fight for safe working conditions, a 5% pay rise and an end to casualisation and off the books work.
Baiada is a disgrace. At this Laverton North factory there are daily injuries, workers can get paid $7-10/hour, international students are deliberately overworked then corralled into dodgy arrangements, women are sexually harassed on a daily basis, and most outrageously a worker named Sorel Singh was decapitated last year when management refused to turn off a machine while it was cleaned.
UNITE members at the Carlton Hotel have been fighting for the minimum wage and penalty rates, in the face of anti-union bullying and blatant lies from management and the boss.
Workers at the Carlton – a hugely popular CBD bar – have been getting paid well below the minimum wage for years. A group of bartenders fed up with the situation joined UNITE and began to push for their entitlements.
UNITE would like to extend its warm support to Occupy Melbourne.
Our members are low-paid workers in retail and hospitality, who feel the destructive force of capitalism on a daily basis. Retail bosses, despite high profits, recently began campaigning for the legal minimum wage to be even further reduced to keep profits soaring.