Many retail and fast food workers contact the union with questions about the motivations of SDA to undercut the minimum terms and conditions of workers. In Australia, workers have little experience of organisations purporting to represent the interest of workers while actually diminishing the minimum lawful workplace rights of workers.
This summary is intended to explain some of the issues involved. Simple google searches will also identify news articles and other materials which explain these issues further.
Here, SDA is used as shorthand for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association often called “the Shoppies”.
During the 1940s and 1950s a Catholic movement (called “The Movement”) was established to directly undermine elected union leaders who were members of or sympathised with the Communist Part of Australia – later it targeted any progressive union leaders irrespective of their political affiliation, including many within the ALP. In the 1950s the Movement established the National Civic Council whose primary aim was to undermine socially progressive union leaders. Over the 1950s through 1970s the National Civic Council ran campaigns against many union leaders and took control of a number of unions. The National Civic Council influence rapidly declined in the late 1970s. The last bastion of influence of those either from or with similar motivations in the union movement is at the SDA.
For more information on these issues see the exceptional piece by Fairfax journalists in The Good Weekend in September 2016 here: http://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2016/shopped-out/ [i]
Having secured control of the SDA, the National Civic Council or its aftermath have maintained a ruthlessly conservative social agenda. This is led largely by the National Executive which includes:
Joe de Bruyn – National President (previously long term National Secretary and on National Executive since 1978)
Gerard Dwyer – National Secretary (previously long term National President and on National Executive since 2005)
Michael Donovan - National Vice President (long term Victoria Branch Secretary and on National Executive since 1996)
Until recently, Ian Blandthorn was a long term National Assistant Secretary (and on National Executive since 1986.)
In 2007, the SDA made a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission “Abortion Law” Inquiry[ii]. That submission can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/w306a4qp0v8r3et/Abortion-Law-Inquiry-Nov-2007.pdf?dl=0
The submission states:
Abortion is the deliberate destruction of a human life. There is not and can never be a right to have an abortion.
Since it destroys human life, abortion is a serious and immoral act. That is why it has been a serious offence under the Victorian Crimes Act for many years.
Clearly, abortion should not be de-criminalised. It should remain a serious criminal offence under Victorian law, and this law should be enforced with justice in order to protect innocent human life, and to maintain due respect for the sanctity of life.
In 2012, the SDA made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in relation to the Gay Marriage Bill[iii]. That submission can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/87targfe702gk3h/120402%20sub%20180_SDA%20Gay%20Marriage%20Bill.pdf?dl=0
The submissions states, under the heading “Union Policy”:
The SDA has a longstanding policy in support of marriage being a union between a man and a woman. Marriage has long being (sic) regarded as the entry point for the procreation of children. Societies and communities well before the advent of political states believed that the union of a man and woman gave rise to child bearing.
Furthermore, the SDA has maintained a consistent policy that a child is better served within a household where both biological parents attend to their needs, welfare, and development and impart the moral laws. This becomes an essential preparation for the child in becoming a future participant in his/her community.
It is not by coincidence that the family is commonly referred to as the basic unit on which society is organised. It is at the point of the family that children are provided with the core values on which they shape their lives. The whole construction of the regeneration of society has at its foundational level the family based on marriage between a man and a woman.
An attempt to change the essence of what is in fact the basic unit of Society is ill-conceived and derives from a motivation alien to the best interests of the child and the common good of Society.
SDA has made similar submissions on other “moral” issues arguing against IVF, stem cell research and other progressive policies.
HOW SDA IMPLEMENTS ITS AGENDA
The SDA implements these and other socially conservative policies through its influence in the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The structure of the ALP political party is that affiliated unions carry influence in the formulation of policy and selection of candidates for elections proportionate to their membership.[iv] Therefore, the higher the membership of SDA, the more influence it has on the policy of ALP and who gets elected as ALP members of Parliament. SDA has arranged for the selection of dozens of candidates committed to pursuing its conservative agenda who were subsequently elected as politicians at state and federal level.
The primary motivator for SDA is to maintain (or increase) its membership.
Increasing membership is not unusual for unions. However, the purpose of increasing its membership and the mechanism of increasing its membership is very unusual. SDA does this through relationships with employers earned through diminishing workplace rights, where the employers in turn recruit for or facilitate union membership.
NOTORIOUS CUTTING OF CONDITIONS
In return for facilitating the reduction or diminution of working conditions for workers at major retailers or fast food companies, those companies help SDA recruit members.
These behaviours are particularly pernicious when workers are often young, in their first job, in insecure employment and/or in their first days of work.
The reduction or diminution of working conditions includes substantial loss of valuable conditions.
Common across many retail employers are:
- Evening penalty rates of 25% removed
- Application of shift penalty rates reduced or removed
- Saturday penalty rates of 25% (35% for casual staff) removed
- Sunday penalty rates of 100% reduced or removed (note as of 1 July 2017 award rate is 95%)
- Casual loadings reduced from 25% to 20%
- Junior rates for 17 year old staff reduced from 60% to 55%
- Junior rates for 18 year old staff reduced from 70% to 67.5%
- Removal of paid rest breaks for 4 hour shifts
- Other workplace rights reduced/removed
Common across many fast food employers are:
- Evening penalty rates of 10% removed
- Early morning penalty rates of 15% reduced or removed
- Saturday penalty rates of 25% removed
- Sunday penalty rates of 50% removed (note as of 1 July 2017 award rate is 45%)
- Casual loadings in addition to these rates reduced from 25% to 20%
- Other workplace rights reduced/removed
SDA has alleged in some media articles these losses are offset by small increases in the base rate of pay. This is manifestly unjust and untrue. Clearly a 6% increase in a base wage does not offset a 25%, 50% or higher lost penalty rate. We know even an 11% or higher increase does not offset lost penalty, shift, casual, overtime and junior rates.
We now know that huge numbers of workers – hundreds of thousands of workers – have earned less than they would have earned had there been no SDA agreement in place. This infects almost every major retail and fast food company in Australia. It has cost retail and fast food workers billions of dollars. See the bottom of this webpage for news articles regarding many major employers.
The relationship with employers also means SDA rarely pursues an individual member’s concerns. Many workers report meetings where SDA officials and management representatives pressure a worker to accept an unsatisfactory outcome.
The Fair Work Commission applies a test called the Better Off Overall Test to each agreement an employer applies to have approved. This test is specifically to ensure that every employee and every prospective employee is better off overall under the agreement than the Award.
The material put to the Fair Work Commission to undertake this test appears to have mislead the Fair Work Commission into approving agreements which clearly could never have passed the test.[viii] This is why the Coles appeal[ix] was so important in 2015 and 2016. It exposed what SDA and employers had been doing.
SDA has argued the test fundamentally changed with the Coles appeal. This is completely untrue. SDA knew what the test was and engaged with employers in activity which has meant the proper test was not conducted.
SDA never argued in the Coles appeal any other test. SDA knew all along what the test was. In fact, the SDA evidence was that it knew its agreement left some workers worse off than the Award, that it didn’t tell them[x], and that wages were a 3rd or 4th order issue for Coles workers.
But despite the successful Coles appeal the issue is not fixed. Unless the laws change, RAFFWU members must negotiate new agreements or terminate current agreements to get back the penalty rates and other conditions denied them. Even now, the SDA is fighting the Coles termination which would return hundreds of millions of dollars in minimum wages directly to low paid workers. We expect SDA will fight every attempt to return these wages.
ORGANISATIONS SUPPORTING SDA
There are some organisations who quote to the media, or represent SDA to the public, which malign RAFFWU and argue these facts are not true. In one instance, SDA even argued Fairfax journalists have run a campaign of “alt-facts”. The same Fairfax journalists who won the prestigious Walkley Award[xi] for their reporting on these issues.
The SDA wealth, power and influence is enormous. Many individuals and organisations rely heavily or entirely on the financial or other support of SDA. Retail and fast food workers do not. In fact, they have financed the SDA creating its pool of supporters and apologists.
It is not just SDA to blame. Each employer that engages in conduct which denies workers their minimum Award entitlements knows what it is doing. They are also choosing to take that path and support the notoriously conservative position of SDA on social issues. That is the price they pay for getting an agreement which cuts the minimum wages paid to workers.
Through encouraging young, insecurely employed workers to join SDA, those companies are pushing the conservative SDA campaigns against marriage equality, against women’s rights and against other progressive policies often supported by their staff, their shareholders and their customers.
Selection of Articles About Cutting of Wages in Retail and Fast Food
[i] Good Weekend, Fairfax, September 2016 (http://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2016/shopped-out/)
[viii] See submissions of RAFFWU to various Inquiries of Senate Committees in 2017 including https://www.dropbox.com/s/degsuc700ak2mor/sub208.pdf?dl=0
Did you explain to the employees that some of them would earn less than the statutory award minimum?
---I don't believe that was explained, no.
Did the SDA consider that it wasn't relevant for employees to know that?
---I don't think it's that they considered that it wasn't relevant. I think they considered that it was a deal that was generally beneficial to the majority of employees that worked for Coles.
Do you agree that a worker earning, for example, 13.8 percent less under the agreement than the award might consider it a relevant factor when deciding whether to cast a vote in favour or against the agreement?
---They might, yes.
You accept that by failing to draw it to their attention, workers may not have, in fact, made an informed decision about whether they wanted to approve the agreement or not?
---If they had that information, they may have voted differently.
Was the SDA aware at the time the agreement went out to vote that some employees would earn less than the award minimum?
---The SDA's aware that the employees who work predominantly penalty rate times without the compensation of higher base rates of those hours during the week could potentially be worse off.
The SDA was aware of that at the time that the agreement was put out to vote, that's correct?
---I imagine so.
The SDA was aware of that at the time that it filed its F18 statutory declaration in support of the agreement?
The SDA was aware that a factor that may have changed the way in which employees decided to cast their vote was withheld from those employees?
---I wouldn't describe it as withheld. We felt the agreement was a good agreement that benefitted the vast majority of its employees.
But you accept the employees weren't told?
---The employees weren't told.
The Tribunal wasn't told was it?
---I don't believe so.
Have you seen the evidence of Mr Cecchini?
---Yes, I have. I've read it once, not in great detail.
If I could ask that you be given a copy of that report. When I say a copy of the report, I'm referring, Commissioner, to BC5.
If I can ask you to go page 19 of that document and that is findings in relation to a cleaner employed in Benalla. Have you got that?
---Yes, I've got it.
You see on the right hand side Mr Cecchini's analysis, on the left you'll see Mr Cullinan's?
Mr Cecchini's representation of Mr Cullinan's. This employee, when we look at non-contingent benefits, so this is wages and penalties and allowances, would earn under the award $24,117 and under the agreement earns $21,769. Was this a good deal for the cleaner at Benalla?
---On the basis of the non-contingent benefits, I would say no.
After we factor in the contingent on choice benefits, the worker is still 8.9 percent worse off. At that point, is this a good deal for the Benalla cleaner?
---The Benalla cleaner is still behind.
I'm not asking whether they're behind. Your evidence is that this is a good deal for workers. Is your evidence that this is a good deal for the Benalla cleaner?
---Not for the Benalla cleaner, no.
After we take into account contingent on circumstance, so this is someone who is off work for 26 weeks with an injury, taking 11 days carer's leave, three days compassionate leave, three days emergency services leave, three days natural disaster leave, even after we factor in all of those contingencies on circumstances, this person is notionally $121 better off. At that point, does the SDA maintain that this is a good deal for the Benalla cleaner?
---I don't think it's a good deal for the Benalla cleaner.