Over 300 people attended a demonstration to launch UNITE’s Boost Our Pay campaign on Friday March 30. The demonstration was held on the busy Swanston Street in Melbourne outside the main strip of fast food restaurants.
The demonstration was quite different to the usual union rallies held in the Melbourne city centre. UNITE had organised to park a massive nine tonne truck loaded with a powerful PA system within metres of the doors of the fast food outlets.
Three of Melbourne’s best hip hop acts played on this mobile stage on the day. First up were local MCs Mata & Must who impressed the growing crowd. Next was the always impressive SS Pecker who were followed by Illzilla who played an awesome set. All of the acts made points about the issues facing young workers and thanked UNITE for organising what they said was a fantastic event.
UNITE did not seek permission for the event maintaining that it is a democratic right for young people and workers to protest. The police attempted to put pressure on the organisers not to hold the event. Every excuse in the book was used ranging from the lack of permits and insurance, safety concerns and even noise pollution!
In negotiations a senior officer from the Victorian Police said that they would only support events that didn’t cause disruptions, like friendly picnics in the park. This event in contrast was aimed at causing major disruption to the fast food outlets. A goal that was achieved on the day!
In between sets a range of speakers explained to the crowd the aims of the Boost Our Pay campaign. Anthony Alder spoke about youth rates and the minimum wage. He said that “in some cases young workers are only paid half of what adult workers get”. He told the crowd that UNITE stands firmly against this exploitation and is fighting for equal pay for equal work.
Kylie McGregor and Harriet Stewart also spoke with Kylie explaining the problems with individual contracts (AWAs) and the high levels of casualisation amongst young workers. “Casual workers are being ripped off because they don’t get the benefits that permanent staff enjoy. This makes it cheaper for employers and helps them increase their profits” she said.
Harriet, who has recently returned from New Zealand, reported on some of the struggles and successes of the Unite Union in New Zealand. She told the crowd that in many cases Unite (NZ) has won massive pay rises and had youth rates abolished. “We need to replicate these successes here!” she said.
Anthony Main spoke just before the end of Illzilla’s set thanking all of the acts and saying that “it was awesome to have some of Melbourne’s best hip hop acts supporting UNITE and fast food and retail workers today”. He said that “young workers only really have two choices – either we can just put up with the low wages and dodgy conditions that these bosses are dishing out or we can do what workers in other industries have done and build a fighting union”. He appealed to all fast food and retail workers to join UNITE and get involved.
UNITE organisers estimate that over 3000 leaflets were handed out to passers by on the day. The leaflets explained the four main demands of the Boost Our Pay campaign which include an end to youth wages, a $16 minimum wage, no to AWAs and for secure hours.
This event marked a new stage in the fight for young workers rights in Australia. UNITE proved that, even though they have very little money and few resources, with the right ideas and method it is possible to make trade unionism attractive to young people. Just as important, this event flew in the face of those that say young people are complacent and not interested in fighting back. This will be the first of many more events to come.
By UNITE reporters