The Guardian August 2, 2000


Shop workers' early Christmas

A decision by the full bench of the Australian Industrial Relations 
Commission should see around 95 percent of retail workers in Victoria have 
federal award coverage by Christmas. This would return the award wages and 
conditions that more than 120,000 shop workers lost when the former Kennett 
Government scrapped the state award system and forced them onto the bare 
minimums under the federal Workplace Relations Act.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) officially 
pronounced Kennett's industrial relations deregulation consigned to the 
dustbin of history after the Commission found the existence of an 
interstate industrial dispute against 25,000 retailers.

The current industrial relations structure has forced the union to service 
a log of claims on every single employer, and the SDA has called for the 
Federal Commission, or a State Commission, to be given the power to make 
common rule awards across industries in future.

The union's log of claims also covers a small number of workers near the 
Victorian border, such as Albury in southern NSW and Mount Gambier in 
eastern South Australia.

The campaign, which began two years ago, ran up against the anti-union 
agenda of the Kennett Government which intervened to oppose the Commission 
finding an interstate industrial dispute and, beyond that, a federal award.

Workers hit by Kennett's changes, including those shop employees who were 
not under a federal award, were left with five basic, minimum standards  
an hourly rate of pay (with no penalty rates), four weeks annual leave 
(with no loading), one week per year sick leave, unpaid parental leave and 
long service leave.

The State Government, Federal Government and the employers opposed the 
union's claim. When Labor came to office last year the situation changed 
somewhat because the Bracks Government supported federal award coverage.

"More than 120,000 workers will be brought into the federal system", SDA 
State Secretary Michael Donovan, told The Guardian. "So they'll get 
back their weekend penalty rates, their shift loading, their tea breaks, 
their protections about rostering arrangements, their annual leave loading, 
their sick leave will be increased and a whole range of other things."

He said that considering there was already a federal award covering workers 
at the major retailers "it should be a straight-forward argument".

Mr Donovan rejected employer claims that the decision is major blow to 
small businesses. "Well, I've heard that argument before. In fact I've 
heard that argument for 23 years.

"Whenever we seek to win a wage increase it's always going to destroy the 
retail industry, and it never has. What's happened is that we are simply 
restoring what people lost.

"If workers are going to be 25 percent better off, that's because their 
wages were cut by 25 percent in the case of all those employers who took 
advantage of the opportunity of doing so: it's been taken out of the 
workers' pay packets and put into the hands of the owners."

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