A new union for fast food and retail workers has been launched in Melbourne. The union, UNITE, grew out of a campaign for casual workers rights. UNITE first started in 2003 as an organisation fighting for low paid and casual workers.
Its most notable campaigns were the ‘name and shame’ campaign on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and the campaign to unionise Boarders Books on Lygon Street in Carlton.
Whilst the campaigning of UNITE did lead to improvements in the wages and conditions for some workers in Melbourne?s inner suburbs, it became clear that much more than a lobby group was required to take on the massive issues faced by workers in the fast food and retails sectors.
These workers, most of which are aged under 25, are some of the most exploited in society. Not only are they forced to work casual hours for low pay but many also face violence or bullying in the workplace.
The introduction of John Howard’s new industrial relations laws has only made the situation worse. The laws have tipped the balance even further in favour of employers and now many young workers are being forced to sign substandard individual contracts that further wind back rights and conditions.
UNITE has been set up with task of making trade unionism relevant to young people. It will be an organisation that educates young people about their rights in the workplace, that takes up the issues that young people face in the wider community and organises them to fight back and win the decent wages and conditions that they deserve.
Whilst UNITE will technically not be a ‘registered’ union it will be able to legally represent groups of workers in negotiations with employers. It will also not have the legal ‘right of entry’ into workplaces that other unions enjoy, but due to the nature of the workplaces this will not stop its organisers walking into shops to talk to workers.
The time for young people in fast food and retail to have their own fighting union is long overdue. We urge all workers to get involved with this exciting new development. We urge all fast food and retail workers to join UNITE.