Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

UNITE: Taking on dodgy bosses and winning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria, has won several victories over the past few months.

Through their Brunswick Street campaign UNITE has won back pay in a number of stores and forced some bosses to start paying penalty rates for the first time. Their campaign against convenience store giant 7-Eleven has also seen a dodgy employer prosecuted along with an order to pay another $100,000 in back pay to a group of migrant workers.

In a sign of UNITE’s growing influence on Brunswick street, a popular café was found to only be paying penalty rates to union members. The other workers have since joined the union and are demanding back pay and higher rates.

Another restaurant on the street has paid out an estimated $30,000 in back pay after a group of workers joined UNITE and demanded Award rates and conditions. These are usually unheard of victories in an industry famous for its “if you don’t like it, leave” attitude towards casual workers.

The public nature of the Brunswick Street campaign has encouraged workers from other parts of Melbourne to join UNITE and start organising their workplaces. Hospitality and retail workers in the CBD, Carlton and St Kilda have joined UNITE after hearing about the successes in Fitzroy. The message that collective organising is the only way to beat the industry’s endemic criminality is slowly getting out there.

Absurd posturing from the employer organisation VECCI, lying and bullying from Brunswick Street bosses and jealous reproaches from other unions have not hindered the campaign. These extreme reactions only demonstrate that UNITE is making real progress in previously unchartered territory.

UNITE should be congratulated for bringing to light the double hours scam being orchestrated by 7-Eleven. They have claimed for several years that 7-Eleven was cooking their books and often only paying their workers for half the hours they worked.

While the courts did prosecute one 7-Eleven franchisee for underpayments, the fines of $150,000 were in no way enough. That said a number of 7-Eleven workers from around Australia have contacted UNITE saying that their wages have also been increased as a result of the case. The challenge ahead now is to organise more 7-Eleven workers to ensure that these gains are maintained.

UNITE is proving that young workers can be organised and that real gains can be won with a fighting attitude. With very few resources this militant union is setting an example that can’t be ignored.

San Churro workers win penalty rates!

Workers at San Churro’s Brunswick Street store in Fitzroy are now being paid penalty rates for the first time. Their win came after they joined UNITE and decided to stand up for themselves.

San Churro is a popular chain cafe with opening hours from morning until after midnight. The chain employs over 300 staff and turns over an estimated $7 million per year.

Many of the workers at San Churro regularly work in the evening, at night and on weekends. Despite these hours, San Churro head office was until recently refusing to pay penalty rates to compensate for consistently working anti-social hours.

UNITE made contact with these workers through the ‘Respect Workers Rights Campaign’. Initially, head office refused the but reconsidered when they were faced with an organised work force, a planned protest and widespread negative publicity.

Penalty rates will make a big difference to many of the workers at San Churro. For some it will mean hundreds of dollars more in their pay packets every week!

The lesson to be learnt from the San Churro workers is that it is possible for workers in retail, fast food and hospitality to win basic rights like penalty rates. The key is to be organised in a union and be prepared to stand up against the boss!

Employers never voluntarily hand over wages or conditions that reduce their profits or control. From penalty rates to lunch rooms and toilets, all the things that workers enjoy today were won through struggle. The only way to maintain the gains of the past is for workers to be organised.

If you work in fast food or retail and you want to get penalty rates then you and your workmates should follow the example of the San Churro workers! Get organised and join UNITE today!

By Chris Dite