Bookshop retreats from locking out workers, new agreement made

The welfare support fund for Better Read Than Dead workers reached more than $22,000.

Workers campaigning for improved conditions at Newtown bookshop, Better Read Than Dead (BRTD), were locked out by their employer on July 26.

But the next day, the Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union (RAFFWU) members announced they had reached an in-principle agreement with management and would return to work on July 28.

The bookshop workers have been fighting for an improved enterprise agreement and, on July 19, initiated protected industrial action by placing a ban on overtime, handling cash and updating window displays. This is the first time a retail workplace outside the meat industry has taken this type of industrial action in more than 50 years.

They decided take industrial action after BRTD management refused an agreement that sets $25 an hour as the minimum rate of pay, includes workplace safety and sexual harassment protections and job security clauses.

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan told an online forum discussing the campaign on July 14 that workers were preparing to escalate their action if management did not respond positively.

As this is exactly what followed, BRTD workers put new bans on work associated with web orders.

Management then announced it was locking out the workers.

RAFFWU pointed to the hypocrisy of an employer, trading on “progressive ideals”, to lock our workers “who just want secure, safe jobs”.

“BRTD have been consistently aggressive towards their staff, shouting the bargaining team out of the room in an early meeting and firing two workers, including a bargaining team member and a store manager. [It has also been] threatening workers with cease-and-desist letters for posting a photo with the RAFFWU flag,” the union said at the July 14 forum.

On July 27, the workers voted unanimously to endorse an agreement that includes: allowing casuals to convert to permanent agreements; a minimum four weeks consultation over major changes to the agreement; six weeks' notice of redundancy and rights to redeployment and severance pay; all workers to be classified as Retail Employee Level 3; the restoration of Sunday penalty rates; the abolition of junior rates; a base rate of pay for part-time employees of $1 more than the award minimum; a full suite of health and safety clauses, policies and rights; 20 days paid domestic violence leave; and 26 weeks of paid parental leave.

Cullinan told Green Left on July 27: “Each of these conditions is far superior to any major retail or fast-food agreement in Australia. It shows what is possible when workers organise in a fighting union and implement direct unwavering protected industrial action.”

The union had set up a strike fund for workers who had lost all of their income. It reached its $12,000 goal within a week but, since the lockout, the target amount was raised to $20,000. By July 26, it had received more than $22,000, from almost 400 donors, showing the high level of support for the BRTD workers.

[This article was updated on July 27 when the agreement became public.]