Workers at the Apple Store in Charlestown Square, Newcastle, walked out on October 18 as part of a nationwide industrial action by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU). They are campaigning for job security, living wages, fair leave provisions and workplace safety measures.
These are the first national retail strikes in Australia's history, and set a precedent for further radical action in the retail sector.
Apple workers walked out at 10am and marched through Charlestown Square, where RAFFWU delegates addressed a crowd of unionists and supporters.
Speakers demanded action, spoke out against union-busting activities and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) inability or interest in fighting for workers’ interests.
RAFFWU president Jessica Barnes told the rally: “All these workers should be applauded for taking on this David and Goliath struggle against one of the biggest companies in the world.”
A RAFFWU delegate said the Charlestown Apple Store’s union membership has grown from 10 to 30 in the past two months.
The action was met with wide support, despite efforts by security guards to suppress the rally, including an attempt to confiscate a megaphone from a RAFFWU member.
Similar stoppages occurred in Chermside, Brisbane, and other Apple Stores across the country. They were organised in response to Apple’s proposal of a sub-par, non-union deal, which would leave workers in a worse position.
Workers, supported by RAFFWU, have forced Apple to the bargaining table, with delegates promising further action if the company does not agree to the unions’ terms.
RAFFWU has notified Apple of workplace bans starting from October 19 and a 24-hour strike is planned for October 22 if no agreement is reached.
RAFFWU and Apple have been negotiating for 10 weeks. “Despite 18 meetings,” RAFFWU explained. “Apple refuses to guarantee minimum conditions — let alone a fair agreement with living wages and secure rosters. Apple workers have been left with no choice but to take serious action.”
RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan said: “Apple has refused to bargain in good faith, hardly budging from a wage-cutting sub-standard deal which pays less than the minimum Award wage, without set rosters, and without any work/life balance.”
RAFFWU is challenging the SDA’s dominance in the retail industry; many workers are looking for a union that will fight for their interests.
Apple has retaliated by threatening striking workers with pay cuts.
Knauf plasterboard workers, who have been on strike for more than 30 days, sent a message of support to Apple workers on October 18. “We stand in solidarity with the Apple workers, fighting for what’s fair,” they said. “Apple has the most profitable stores in the world, so we call on Apple to share that extraordinary wealth with the Aussie workers who make it possible.”
[RAFFWU set up a community support fund to support the striking workers.]