A new enterprise bargaining agreement reached by the Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) is set to leave thousands of low-paid workers worse off, according to detailed analysis conducted by union official Josh Cullinan, the May 24 Sydney Morning Herald said.
“Cullinan, who works for the National Tertiary Education Union, did the analysis in a personal capacity, estimated Coles could be saving more than $20 million a year in wages by underpaying its staff.
“The deal is before the Fair Work Commission, which is required to test if it leaves individual workers 'better off overall' when compared to the retail award, the basic wages safety net,” the SMH said.
Casual loading will be reduced from 25% under the award to 20% and weekend penalty rates reduced in many cases to nearly half the current rate. Given that a high proportion of Coles employees are employed on a casual basis, this deal will result in a loss of pay for the majority of workers.
One example where the new EBA fails to meet the award rate is in regard to Sunday penalty rates. Under the award, workers receive $37.05 an hour, but under the EBA workers would receive only $31.46.
While the agreement won a majority vote at the ballot, only a minority of workers actually took part in the ballot.
So far the greatest resistance to the EBA has come from meatworkers and their union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), who, despite being represented by a different union, are subject to the arrangement reached between Coles and the SDA because the SDA represents the majority of the Coles workforce.
Meatworkers have traditionally been covered by a different agreement. According to the AMIEU, the EBA would put meatworkers under the same agreement as other shop workers and eliminate or severely reduce penalty rates. It also introduces mandatory weekend work (previously voluntary), reduces pay for sick leave on weekends and eliminates paid rostered days off. The meatworkers union is instead demanding that shop assistants get the higher penalty rates in order to standardise conditions upwards.
In January, 95% of Coles meatworkers in Victoria and Tasmania voted to take protected industrial action against Coles in order to retain the current state agreements.
This is not the first time that the SDA has worked together with employers to create an EBA that leaves workers worse off. Earlier this year the South Australian branch of the SDA reached a historic agreement to abolish weekend penalty rates for hospitality workers in return for higher wages on week days. However, given that most hospitality workers work over weekends and public holidays (when hospitality businesses are frequented more often), this will mean that they will invariably be worse off than they were before.
The SDA also has a history of reaching agreements with employers only to have them rejected by Workplace tribunals for leaving workers worse off, including a deal with McDonalds in 2010 and a 2003 deal with Hungry Jacks.
The conduct of the SDA is particularly concerning to young workers given that the retail and hospitality industries are the largest employers of young people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 43.7% of workers in the two industries are aged between 15 and 26.
The May 2 Age revealed that Australia’s biggest private-sector union pays major employers, including Coles and Woolworths, up to $5 million a year in commissions to help maintain its large membership. This is a result of a 1971 deal with the big retailers of the time to sign up members to the union in “closed-shop” arrangements. Despite closed shops being made illegal two decades ago, this arrangement still continues with union officials being invited by Coles and Woolworths to employee induction sessions.
One motivation for the SDA to pursue policies that compromise the livelihoods of their members on behalf of the bosses is so it can have unhindered access to workers, and therefore greater influence on the Labor Party. The SDA has used its influence within the ALP to push a conservative agenda including opposing marriage equality and abortion as well as lobbying for increased government funding for private education.
The SDA’s public opposition to marriage equality shows how out of touch this union is with the large section of its membership who are young. Opinion polls show that 81% of Australians aged 18-24 support marriage equality.
While the SDA has significant influence within the Labor Party because it has the highest membership of any union in Australia, the SDA also has support from the Liberal Party.
Federal employment minister Eric Abetz said SDA national president “Joe de Bruyn is a role model of trade union officialdom. He is the type of official who gives trade unionism a good name,” the May 2 SMH said.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the SDA has been exempted from the government’s Royal Commission into trade union corruption.
In light of these facts, the SDA has clearly demonstrated that it is not a union that acts in the interests of its members.
Young people lose out as the union has no interest in protecting their livelihoods and has instead taken every opportunity to undermine wages and conditions that not only affect its own members but will have adverse flow-on effects on other industries as well.
A Facebook group “SDA Union Transform and Transpose” has been established by rank-and-file members of the SDA with the express aim of reforming their union by making it more democratic and reflective of the interests of SDA members.
Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance encourages all young workers to join their union and take part in rank and file organising to ensure that their union exists to represent the members.