UNITE expose young worker super-exploitation

UNITE, the Victorian union representing fast food and retail workers, has exposed a video shop owner who offered young workers DVD hire instead of wages.

A UNITE member who had enquired about an advertisement in the window of Video Dogs in Carlton alerted the union to the sign and UNITE blew up the story in the media today.

The story made the nightly news on every channel as well as popular current affairs program ‘Today Tonight’. UNITE organisers also did live interviews on radio stations throughout the day.

The timing of the incident was important as it happened only days after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his New Employment Standards (NES). These standards, while being slighter better than those under the Howard government, are still largely inadequate. Because of the recent announcement, and the fact that the incident made national headlines, both Rudd and the Workplace Ombudsman were under some pressure to prove that the standards and the IR regime were adequate.

Subsequently representatives of the Workplace Ombudsman were forced to initiate an immediate investigation. At 11am UNITE organisers and many media outlets were at the store to meet the owner at opening time.

The owner did himself no favours by initially telling the press that he had never advertised for young people to work for free. He claimed this while being filmed standing right next to the sign in the window!

He then went on to explain that it was OK to get people to work for free as many Non Government Organisations and charities do the same. UNITE smashed all of his arguments in the press and there is no doubt his trading reputation has been seriously damaged.

A spokesperson for the Workplace Ombudsman said that it would seek employment records and examine wage records and pay slips from the past six months. They also said the employer could face fines of up to $33,000. While having no faith in the Workplace Ombudsman as a neutral body (who is currently investigating workers for simply defending jobs), this investigation is to be welcomed.

On this occasion media publicity and putting pressure on the Ombudsman has achieved a positive result, but it should be noted that the Ombudsman can not be relied on to solve the problems young workers face.

As UNITE have made clear, the solution to stopping the super-exploitation of young workers is to build fighting unions. We need to be organised in every workplace and not just in some city office. What the bosses fear the most is not just bad publicity but a fighting and well organised union in fast food and retail.

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