The Guardian 4 May, 2005

Weight Watchers workers unionising

Across NSW Weight Watchers Leaders have been holding meetings to discuss the health of their workplaces. Weight Watchers Leaders are no strangers to meetings. They help people discuss progress on weight loss goals at weekly meetings and sell food and cookbooks at meetings.

They are low-paid and know it — a minimum rate of $6 an hour. If current award rates of pay were in place they would receive around $18 an hour, almost tripling their pay packet

They run from as little as one and up to seven and eight classes a week.

A Leader is paid a meeting fee of a minimum of $27 or commission to run meetings.

The meetings often take a minimum of five hours of work in preparation and on top of that there are large amounts of paper work. As well, Leaders are expected to attend a lot of unpaid meetings and training.

Now some of the Leaders have joined the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (LHMU) and hold their own meetings, adapting the meeting style they have learnt to address their own needs.

"A lot of emotion comes out at these Interested Leaders Group (ILG) meetings. A lot of questions about how we’ve allowed a job that we love, a company that we love, get into this situation", said Megan Winch, one of the founders of the new ILG Weight Watchers group.

"Meetings like this have given us a feeling of being liberated."

Members of the ILG — just as in a Weight Watchers meeting — share what they have learned about how they can win a better lifestyle. And (just as in a Weight Watchers meeting) they are encouraging each other to get more Weight Watchers Leaders to come together and share their goals.

"Every Leader has lost weight thanks to Weight Watchers and that’s why we work there. We are evangelists in working for Weight Watchers. We love it. That’s why there is a lot of emotion here in what we’re doing", said Ms Winch.

The ILG had three or four meetings, just talking together about what they should do about their pay and conditions. They approached the company a number of times to clarify their job classification and remuneration but did not receive a satisfactory response.

Finally they decided as a group to approach the LHMU to work with them in running a campaign.

Fortified by these meetings the ILG, at the recent Weight Watchers annual conference handed out a leaflet asking all the Leaders if they felt they were being paid properly. That ruffled a few feathers because the Weight Watchers company immediately direct mailed all their NSW and ACT people telling them they were disappointed by the ILG’s actions.

Already about a third of the Sydney Weight Watchers Leaders have joined up with the ILG and the LHMU.

Membership in both groups is growing fast with people making private contact with a designated union organiser who can discuss in complete confidence the issues troubling Weight Watchers Leaders. More than two dozen Melbourne Weight Watchers Leaders have got together in the last two weeks and joined the LHMU in Victoria.

Key issues

The key issues the Leaders want to focus on in their campaign are demands for Weight Watchers to:

  • Recognise that Leaders are covered by the Health Fitness and Indoor Sports Centres (State) Award

  • Pay Leaders for all work including the proper entitlements and pay rates in the Award

  • Recognise the Leaders as permanent, part time so they can have paid holidays, sick leave, etc

  • Clarify their job description.

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