- by N Stallon
- The Guardian
- Issue #2016
Better Read Than Dead workers were the first retail workers to take industrial action in more than 50 years. Photo: Supplied
On Tuesday, 5th July, the Fair Work Commission approved what the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) has called “the best enterprise agreement in retail and fast food” at Sydney bookstore Better Read Than Dead (BRTD).
The EBA, the first negotiated by RAFFWU since their founding in 2016, increases hourly pay, abolishes junior rates, restores weekend penalty rates, allows casuals to convert to permanent employment, provides twenty days paid domestic violence leave and twenty-six weeks paid parental leave, as well as enshrines a full suite of health and safety clauses.
This comes after nearly two years of struggle that culminated in multiple community protests and the first cases of industrial action in the retail industry in over fifty years last July. This included bans on overtime, fulfilling web orders and returns, handling cash, and changing window displays.
Workers faced a harsh union-busting campaign including the dismissal of a union delegate and bargaining team member, cease-and-desist letters for social media posts, and workers being locked out. Management even reneged on an in-principal agreement reached last July.
Workers remained strong and united, while other unions and the community stood in solidarity, with a strike fund receiving $22,000 in donations.
Workers recommenced industrial action in November before finally winning their deal.
“We are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve through organisation, direct action and exercising our rights as workers. We work in an industry that we are passionate about, but unfortunately it is characteristic in this industry for workplaces to take advantage of that passion” said BRTD worker and RAFFWU Delegate, Tahlia.
“We hope this sets a precedent for workers in other bookstores and retail environments, as well as the book industry as a whole. Solidarity with our comrades in publishing and libraries.”
This win comes as many of Australia’s largest and wealthiest employers, particularly in retail and fast food, are walking away from the enterprise bargaining system.
Since its founding, RAFFWU has exposed and challenged a slew of dodgy deals from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) that saw most workers in some of Australia’s largest retail and fast-food workplaces being paid below the award.
While these companies were more than willing to bargain wages below the award with the SDA, now that EBAs have been forcefully returned to essentially minimum wage conditions, they are now refusing to renegotiate expired EBAs or return workers to the award to prevent wages and conditions being driven above the bare-minimum award levels.
Unsurprisingly, the SDA has done nothing to challenge these decisions or to advance the interests of their members in the retail and fast-food industries.
Almost half of Australian workers are employed by small businesses in non-unionised worksites, with pay and conditions set by the award.
The success of the Better Read Than Dead workers shows the power that workers hold in their workplaces and the importance of militant trade unionism in the retail and fast-food industries.
Progressive workers must follow their lead. Workers in small businesses need to get organised and struggle for higher pay and conditions.
Only through united and militant action will workers win the pay and conditions that they deserve.