Bookshop workers take next step to win rights

June 29, 2021
Readings workers in Melbourne. Photo: Retail and Fast Food Workers Union/Facebook

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) has made history by securing the first Protected Action Ballot Order for a retail workplace outside of the meat industry.

Under Fair Work Commission rules, protected action ballots must be undertaken before workers can take industrial action.

RAFFWU has been working with workers at Better Read Than Dead, a bookshop in Newtown, since late last year. They have been fighting for an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) that includes formal contracts, a workplace safety and sexual harassment policy and to be paid a living wage.

Better Read Than Dead management had been unwilling to negotiate, threatening staff with cease and desist letters and demanding two workers attend “show cause” meetings, where their jobs were threatened.

RAFFWU Secretary Josh Cullinan told Green Left in May that management was doing everything it could to “delay and frustrate the bargaining process”.

RAFFWU applied for the ballot in June and it was approved by the Fair Work Commission on June 22 after Better Read Than Dead management did not to object.

Workers will be balloted over three weeks on whether they can take industrial action.

“Workers should not have to overcome these legal hurdles just to access their human rights,” RAFFWU said on June 23. The union said the retail sector, in which 1.5 million workers work, has not taken industrial action in decades.

Meanwhile, RAFFWU announced on June 25 that the majority of bookshop workers had voted to bargain with Readings Bookshop in Melbourne. The vote was passed with 50.38% in favour.

Readings’ workers are campaigning for an EBA to secure better wages, working conditions and penalty rates. Now that the ballot has passed, they are waiting to see if Readings management will agree to negotiate.

Despite the various legal hurdles and bureaucratic difficulties, workers have to jump through to secure their rights, RAFFWU has pledged to “continue to fight to change these bad laws”.

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