SDA: Australia’s worst union

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There are more than a quarter of a million workers covered by dodgy Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) workplace agreements that pay below Award rates. Collusion between the SDA and some of Australia’s biggest retail and fast food companies is rife, resulting in a huge transfer of wealth from wages to profits.

In May the Fair Work Commission ruled that the latest Coles/SDA agreement failed the ‘better off overall test’. Similar agreements are in place at Woolworths and McDonalds, who along with Coles are Australia’s three largest employers.

All together more than half a million workers are covered by SDA negotiated agreements. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, low paid workers in the fast food and retail industry have been deprived of over $1 billion over the last 5 years!

The SDA have defended these agreements, claiming that the majority of workers are better off. The implication of this being that those paid less than the Award should therefore just accept this rotten situation.

As it turns out, this claim is completely bogus. Analysis of agreements by activists like Josh Cullinan has shown that the majority of workers from Coles, Woolworths, McDonalds, Domino’s, Hungry Jacks, and KFC would be better off under the Award. In every analysis Cullinan found that over 50% of workers were worse off under SDA agreements.

This is the result of so called ‘partnership’ unionism, as it’s termed by apologists of this scam. Socialists more accurately describe it as ‘class collaboration’ unionism. Class collaboration unionism is not a legitimate model with some inherent dangers, as some claim. It is deliberate and calculated deceit which aims to maintain a powerbase for a conservative agenda in the wider labour movement.

There is an unavoidable conflict in every workplace over the surplus value created by workers. That is the portion of the working day that a worker creates value over and above the wages they are paid.

In ‘partnership’ with the employers the SDA work to maximise the amount of surplus value an increase company profits. In return they get assistance from the employer signing up members to the union. This not only translates to millions of dollars in membership dues but it also helps the SDA maintain a huge membership base.

With this membership base the SDA affiliate to the Labor Party and the ACTU and exert undue influence. For example, it was in order to appease the SDA that the Gillard government backed away from marriage equality.

This influence can also be seen in the ACTU, where it was only following the SDA’s recent decision to support MPs in having a conscience vote that the ACTU finally came out in favour of marriage equality.

Outrageously the 2016 winter edition of the SDA magazine, had its cover dedicated to a campaign to protect penalty rates. This while they negotiate agreements that do exactly the opposite!

The SDA claim that the May ruling of the Fair Work Commission is a “reinterpretation” of the ‘better off overall test’. Their interpretation is that the majority of workers need to be better off. Professor Andrew Stewart, who helped draft the Fair Work Act, has rubbished this claim, stating the law is “crystal clear”: every worker must be better off.

The issue of penalty rates cuts to the heart of just why workers are worse off on SDA agreements. Under the Retail Award workers are entitled to a 25% loading on weekday evenings and Saturdays and a 100% loading on Sundays.

Under the Coles Agreement, workers receive nothing on weekday evenings or Saturdays and only a 50% loading on Sundays. This is why, despite the fact that the base rate is marginally higher, people who work mainly evening and weekend shifts are financially worse off.

As more of the SDA’s dodgy practices are revealed there is a strong possibility that a number of SDA agreements will be made invalid. Increasingly there will be opportunities for workers in the fast food and retail industries to challenge the collusion between the SDA and the big employers and to build a new fighting organisation.

SDA members need a union that will not only resist moves to cut wages but will fight to claw back what has been lost in recent years.

By Alex Foley