Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Stop the Brunswick Street rip off!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

UNITE’s ‘Respect Workers Rights’ campaign in Melbourne is gathering pace by the day. Among other things, it has been confirmed that the majority of employers on Brunswick Street are undermining many minimum entitlements such as minimum pay rates, penalty rates and superannuation contributions.

This situation can only be described as typical for many young workers in the fast food, retail and hospitality sectors. It also underscores the need for a revival of fighting trade unionism in these industries so that people can organise collectively to demand their minimum entitlements.

By UNITE Organiser, Kirk Leonard

Over the last month UNITE has been surveying the 300 odd workplaces on Brunswick Street, one of Melbourne’s most famous shopping precincts. The campaign aims to ensure that all workers on the street are receiving at least their legal minimum entitlements. UNITE sees this as a step toward the broader task of organising workers and fighting for real living wages.

Already a number of horror stories have been uncovered. Many shops and cafes are paying employees below the legal minium wage of $15 per hour and very few are paying penalty rates for late nights and weekends. Many workers are not receiving superannuation payments and very few shops have an elected health and safety representative. This disregard for worker’s entitlements coupled with sky high prices means that while they make plenty of profits, workers on the street are often struggling to make ends meet.

In several cases workers have reported being paid as little as $10 per hour. In another business international students are paid less than Australian born workers doing the same job – a clear cut case of racial discrimination. Numerous employers refuse to pass the tips onto the staff and many workers are being bullied, including being threatened with the sack if they speak to UNITE organisers.

Recently the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) attacked UNITE’s campaign, having the audacity to claim that “it’s bad for Victoria”. Rather than highlighting the widespread illegal practices by employers on the street they claimed that it was UNITE who were breaking the law! This response from what is effectively a boss’s union is to be expected. The main point is that the bosses are organised in a union – its now time for the workers to stand together with a collective voice too!

The reaction from VECCI shows that the campaign has touched a raw nerve. Employers know that if workers get organised and act collectively against the mass rip off they are in a strong position to win better wages and conditions.

This is how other sections of workers have managed to win improvements. For example, why is it that unskilled construction workers in Melbourne take home in excess of $1000 per week while university graduates on Brunswick Street are making less than the minimum wage? The answer is that construction workers are organised in a fighting union while fast food, retail and hospitality workers are forced to go it alone.

When workers act collectively it is much harder for the boss to pick people off one by one. UNITE urges people to join up and demand your legal minimum entitlements. Only by building a fighting union will we be able stop the rip off on Brunswick Street and beyond.

To join UNITE or get involved in the ‘Respect Workers Rights’ campaign visit:


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