More than 300 people attended the launch of UNITE's Boost Our Pay campaign on March 30 on Swanston Street outside the main strip of fast food restaurants. UNITE is campaigning for an end to youth wages, a $16 minimum wage, no individual contracts (AWAs), and for secure work hours.
UNITE had organised to park a nine-tonne truck loaded with a powerful PA system within metres of the doors of the fast food outlets where three of Melbourne's best hip hop acts played.
First up were local MCs Mata & Must, next was SS Pecker who was followed by Illzilla. UNITE did not seek permission for the event, maintaining that it is a democratic right for young people and workers to protest. While the police attempted to pressure the organisers not to hold the event, using every excuse in the book, the event went ahead and did what it set out to do: cause major disruption to the fast food outlets.
A range of young activists addressed the crowd, including Anthony Alder, who spoke about youth pay rates and the minimum wage. "In some cases young workers are only paid half of what adult workers get", he said. Kylie McGregor and Harriet Stewart spoke about the problems with individual contracts (AWAs) and the high levels of casualisation among young workers. "Casual workers are being ripped off because they don't get the benefits that permanent staff enjoy. This makes it cheaper for employers and helps them increase their profits", said McGregor.
Stewart, who recently returned from New Zealand, reported on the struggles and successes of the Unite Union there, saying that in many cases it has won massive pay rises and had youth rates abolished. "We need to replicate these successes here", she said.
Anthony Main told the crowd: "Young workers only have two choices: either we can put up with the low wages and dodgy conditions that these bosses are dishing out, or we can do what workers in other industries have done and build a fighting union". He appealed to all fast food and retail workers to join UNITE.
The success of UNITE to date indicates that even with very little money and few resources, it is possible to make trade unionism attractive to young people.