Better Read Than Dead workers win landmark agreement after dedicated industrial action

July 12, 2022
Better Read Than Dead workers were the first retail workers to take industrial action in more than 50 years. Photo: Supplied

Workers at the Better Read Than Dead (BRTD) bookshop in Newtown have won a landmark enterprise agreement, after taking on management that first refused then reneged on an in principle deal.

The workers, together with the Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union (RAFFWU), have been fighting for better pay and conditions since late 2020. They undertook the first industrial action against a retail employer in more than 50 years in July last year.

According to RAFFWU, they won because of their “uncompromising, responsible industrial action” campaign, which mobilised strong community support.

The Fair Work Commission approved the new agreement on July 5.

RAFFWU described it as “the best enterprise agreement in retail and fast food”. It includes an option to convert from casual to permanent employment, higher pay, the abolition of junior wages and the restoration of penalty rates.

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan told Green Left the agreement also includes “a full suite of health and safety clauses” as well as 20 days paid domestic violence leave, 26 weeks paid parental leave and a minimum of four weeks consultation over any major changes.

A BRTD worker and RAFFWU delegate said they “hope[s] this sets a precedent for workers in other bookstores and retail environments”. “We are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve through organisation, direct action and exercising our rights as workers.”

Stella, another worker and RAFFWU delegate, said it is “immensely gratifying to finally have our enterprise agreement approved”. “This is a win that expands past the confines of our bookshop. It is a win for young, casual workers in precarious employment.”

Workers had reached an in-principle agreement with BRTD in July last year, however management refused to sign off on it. Workers restarted industrial action last November, which included bans on overtime, web orders, cash handling, returns and changing window displays.

BTRD management even tried union-busting tactics including sending cease-and-desist letters to workers for sharing photos on social media, threatening termination, selecting a union delegate and a member of the bargaining team for retrenchment and locking out staff.

Workers stayed strong despite this and unanimously agreed to continue their industrial action.

Other unions and the community gave strong solidarity. Two rallies were organised to support the BRTD workers and a strike fund received more than $22,000 in donations.

The victory shows what’s possible for workers if they mobilise and their union is prepared to support industrial action.

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