Retail and fast food workers get organised

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union Recruitment and Campaigns Officer Danielle Hynes and union secretary Josh Cullinan.

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) was formed in late 2016 as a response to growing dissatisfaction among retail workers with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA). The Labor right-controlled SDA is notorious for negotiating enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) that contain below award wages and eroding the rights and conditions of workers. 

Green Left Weekly’s Joel McAlear and Rachel Evans interviewed Coles worker and RAFFWU representative Danielle Hynes about her experiences in the sector and involvement with this dynamic, new union.

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Is retail an important industry in Australia?

Retail is a huge industry sector and includes some of Australia’s most powerful companies such as Woolworths, which owns Woolworths Supermarkets, Big W, BWS and Dan Murphy’s, and Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, Bunnings, Kmart, Officeworks, Liquorland, Target and more.

Did you ever join the SDA?

I never joined the SDA. Often an SDA delegate would be present at inductions for new team members and they would sign them all up. I was lucky enough not to have one at my induction.

There was no active SDA presence at my store from when I started until we had to vote on a new EBA, by which time I’d already joined RAFFWU. This lack of SDA activity in stores is very common.

Despite being pretty much invisible, the SDA were still screwing us workers over by making terrible deals with Coles through our EBAs. They traded away penalty rates on Saturdays, late nights and early mornings for years, which cost millions of workers (including me) loads of money.

This wasn’t just happening at Coles, but also at Woolies, McDonalds and many other major retail and fast food employers.

What is RAFFWU? How did you find out about them?

RAFFWU is the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. It was launched in late 2016 by a group of workers who wanted to build a strong union for retail and fast food workers after decades of the SDA selling out workers in our sectors.

I found out about RAFFWU through social media. After researching them a bit and seeing that they were a strong and active union with ideals that aligned with mine, I decided to join.

What is your job in RAFFWU and what do you do week-by-week?

My job title at RAFFWU is Recruitment and Campaigns Officer. This mainly involves visiting stores and talking to workers about the union and their rights.

We’re a very new union, so many people haven’t heard of us and aren’t aware that another option besides the SDA exists. Often people are stoked to hear there is another option.

I also try to assist workers in identifying issues at their store. Something I hear a lot is that people feel their issue is too small to call the union. I encourage them not to be afraid to give us a call. We can’t help with issues we don’t know about.

I also encourage people to talk to their colleagues about issues they are experiencing, because often issues such as dodgy managers, understaffing and unsafe work practices affect a whole group and tackling these issues together can really help build solidarity in the workplace.

What would you say to workers in the industry? What should they do to guarantee their wages, conditions and rights?

First of all, join RAFFWU. Having a strong union behind you is the best way to guarantee (and improve) wages, conditions and rights.

Also, talk to your colleagues. Let them know you’re part of the union and why you decided to join. We’re trying to build more of a sense of unionism on the ground in the retail and fast food industry and the best way to do that is through face-to-face conversations and organising together.

We also hold monthly meetings for members in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, so we encourage members to attend if they want to be more involved.

[For more information visit raffwu.org.au.]