Within the next few weeks UNITE, the union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria will launch a new campaign. The ‘Respect Workers Rights’ campaign will focus on the inner city Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.
The campaign, which will involve both education on workplace rights and compliance checks for employers, will take place on and around Brunswick Street over the coming months.
UNITE Organiser Mel Gregson explained “We have found that a lot of these cafes and retail stores who employ young people are not paying them properly. Young workers should not have to put up with underpayment or unsafe working conditions. Put simply, we’re fed up with this flagrant disregard for workers rights.”
A Fitzroy café was recently fined over $120,000 for grossly underpaying two of its workers. In the court case, the Magistrate said the underpayments were “deliberate” and “an attempt to ride roughshod over established legal entitlements”.
Anyone who has worked in the retail or hospitality sectors knows that this is not an isolated case. Many young workers, particularly those employed as casuals, either do not know their legal entitlements or are uncertain how to go about ensuring they receive them.
With the cost of living increasing many workers are finding it difficult to make ends meet. This situation is made worse for young people by youth wages, causualisation and the general lack of accountability for employers.
Common problems faced by young workers are the underpayment of wages, the non-payment of penalties, a lack of breaks, bullying, harassment and unsafe working conditions.
The only way to ensure long lasting gains for workers in these industries is to organise through unions and fight for better wages and conditions. This is a task UNITE is committed to, Mel Gregson explained: “We are attempting to unionise a largely un-unionised sector, where basic legal entitlements enjoyed by workers in other industries are the exception, rather than the rule. This is something we are fighting to change.”
In 2003 UNITE ran a similar campaign on the famous retail strip, organising protests against stores not adhering to the law and ‘naming and shaming’ the worst employers. Improvements to wages and conditions were won in many stores, but in recent times there has been an increase in the number of complaints made by workers to UNITE.
“Brunswick Street is a famous Melbourne landmark that attracts thousands of visitors every day. Yet while we’re all paying top-dollar for our coffee, many of these workers are earning less than the minimum wage. We believe the public has a right to know which businesses respect their workers rights and which ones don’t. For those that don’t, we won’t be keeping quiet about it!” Gregson said.
If you have information about any Brunswick Street employer that is not sticking to the law contact the UNITE hotline on 03 9328 1555.
By Socialist Party reporters