UNITE launched the ‘Respect Workers Rights’ campaign last month focusing on the famous Brunswick Street shopping strip in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. The campaign aims to ensure that all workers on the strip are being paid properly and receiving all their legal entitlements.
Young workers in the fast food, retail and hospitality sectors are often paid less than the minimum wage and not afforded penalty rates, casual loadings and superannuation. In many instances they are also faced with unsafe and unhealthy working environments. Many workplaces have never had a health and safety representative elected.
While this is the situation facing the majority of young workers, the bulk of the trade union movement is doing nothing organise young workers into unions so that they can fight for their rights.
That is why UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria, has launched this campaign. In 2003 UNITE ran a very similar campaign on the strip which was successful in boosting the wages and conditions for some workers at the time.
In recent years we have seen a return of dodgy practices and UNITE has reported an increase in complaints from young workers in the area. Just last December the Cape Lounge on Brunswick Street was fined $120,000 for deliberately underpaying its workers. In reality the example of the Cape Lounge is more the norm rather than an exception. While consumers pay top dollar for their drinks, food and clothes the workers on the strip are being thoroughly exploited.
UNITE has already begun the process of auditing employers. Once these audits are complete, UNITE will target the worst employers waging a high profile ‘name and shame’ campaign. By exposing their illegal practices UNITE aims to pressure these employers into sticking to the law.
In workplaces where workers confirm that their bosses are sticking to the law they will receive a special sticker to display in their shop window. By giving stickers to these businesses to display, it means that workers have a way to turn the spotlight on their boss in the event that their rights are disrespected. The threat to a boss of loosing their sticker and being slugged with widespread negative publicity will give workers a footing on which to get organised to defend and extend their conditions.
By running a bold, fighting campaign that has the potential to make gains for young workers, UNITE hopes to go someway towards providing an example for young workers far beyond the strip. The only way that young people will be able to win decent conditions at work is by organising themselves into fighting trade unions.
As part of the campaign UNITE has designated every Saturday as a ‘day of action’ on the street. UNITE will be visiting shops, handing out information to consumers and holding regular information stalls in the area. If you want to get involved in this exciting new campaign or have information about employers that are not sticking to the law contact the UNITE office on 9328 1555.
By SP reporters