Retail bosses have engaged in a new push to drive down the wages and conditions of some of Australia’s lowest paid workers. The National Retail Association is proposing reducing the retail minimum wage by 10%, scrapping penalty rates for nights and Saturdays, reducing penalty rates on Sundays and cutting the minimum shift to one hour.
Bosses pretend that this assault on workers’ rights is a result of internet shopping and the global financial crisis. The reality is that many retail outlets are still highly profitable and this is being used as an excuse to increase profits.
Retail bosses are also bemoaning the fact that there is no ‘meaningful replacement for the flexibility provided by AWAs (individual contracts).’ How is it that the Fair Work Act is both not properly enforced and shockingly insufficient, the courts continually rule in employers’ favour, and yet bosses still demand a return to wage cutting individual contracts?
Despite employers aggressively pushing casualisation, the Australian National Retailers Chief Executive Margy Osmond blames employees who act like casuals.
Last year she condescendingly told young people to “understand that in ‘employer world’ loyalty and patience also have a place. In this day and age with the capacity of Gen Y to change jobs and careers at a speed that leaves most older employers shaking their heads — outcomes also come from taking a breath and making a commitment to the job you are in.” Making a commitment to low pay, poor conditions and irregular hours is nothing but the height of hypocrisy!
In June the retail lobby convinced the government to reduce the minimum shift for high school students to 1.5 hours. Right-wing commentators in The Australian and elsewhere hailed the move as a sensible triumph of flexibility and called on the government to extend such ‘flexibility’ to adult workers.
What they are now proposing for both young and adult retail workers is much worse. Julia Gillard called the proposed changes for students extreme, and then implemented them the following year. It is not ruled out that she also tries to implement some of these proposals.
The Shop Distributive and Allied workers Association (SDA), one of Australia’s most right-wing unions, made a hopeless submission to the Productivity Commission against the proposed wage cuts. They suggested import tariffs as a solution to the threat from online shopping, while noting this would be very expensive. They also suggested that retail workers should be rewarded for having never demanded pay rises above inflation!
If tariffs are expensive and retail workers in the SDA are not even organised enough to ask for pay rises, why wouldn’t the government just take the cheaper option and strip back workers rights even further?
Clearly retail workers can not rely on the SDA or the Labor Party for any support. The only way to combat this joint assault is to get organised around a fighting program. Workers can not accept the blame for internet shopping or the financial crisis.
We need to demand decent pay and secure hours. The only union with a strategy to fight back against these attacks is UNITE – the union for retail and fast food workers in Victoria. The SDA is wrong: workers who rely on the kindness of bosses and capitalist governments will not be rewarded. These proposals must be fought not just in the courts but most importantly collectively in all workplaces.
By Chris Dite