Harassment, unpaid overtime, below award wages and irregular shifts, sound familiar? Fast food, retail and hospitality workers have been on the wrong side of the system for many years. But for John Howard these levels of exploitation are not enough. His new industrial relations laws further attack Australia’s lowest paid workers, many of whom are under the age of 25.
The so called ‘IR reforms’ are designed to drive down wages and conditions in order to boost the profits of the big business bosses. Young people who are working in low paid and casual jobs will be the most vulnerable to these attacks. Already we are seeing young people being forced to sign inferior individual contracts, being sacked unfairly and being pushed around in the workplace even more than before.
But what’s the solution? Do young workers have to put up with this treatment? We need look no further than to New Zealand for a perfect example of how to fight back. Young workers are getting organised and taking to the streets against anti worker and anti youth laws. The UNITE union in New Zealand is running a successful campaign called SuperSizeMyPay. They have been mostly organising workers in the fast food industry and staging actions against youth wages and casualisation.
This has resulted in many victories including the abolishing of youth wages in several major fast food outlets. Unlike the manufacturing industry the fast food industry doesn’t have the luxury of taking production offshore. They would also find it difficult to import cheaper labour from overseas and are therefore forced to deal with the workers that they have here. This means that the best way to beat back Howard’s attacks on youth is to unionise and organise our workplaces.
Unfortunately the union that most young workers in Australia belong to, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, (SDA) does not have the same fighting spirit as UNITE. The SDA is a weak union that prefers to cosy up to the bosses instead of fighting for young peoples’ rights at work. Workers can’t leave it up to a bosses union like the SDA to protect them from the worst elements of the new laws. We need our own fighting organisation along the lines of UNITE in New Zealand.
The UNITE campaign which was set up in Australia in 2003 (inspired by the work in New Zealand) will be stepping up its work in 2006. A new and exciting initiative to organise young workers will soon be announced.