Young workers, small business & the arts

Since UNITE exposed Video Dogs a few weeks ago for paying workers with DVD’s, we have received a couple of letters asking us to clarify our position on young workers, small businesses and the arts. Below is our response to a one of our readers who asked about these issues.

Dear Zac,

Thanks for your letter and interest in our dispute with Video Dogs. However there seems to be some confusion over the exact outcome. Firstly, despite rumours to the contrary, Video Dogs will not be closed down or even fined by the Workplace Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman has told us that they will not be taking any further action against Video Dogs because they co-operated. They have back paid all workers who were paid with DVD hire as well as other permanent staff who were being underpaid.

Video Dogs had told both us and the media that they had never previously paid their workers with DVD hire, however an audit of their books showed they had done it many times. Unfortunately the fact that they are not going to be fined for breaking the law means that there is no incentive for Video Dogs (or any other boss!) to do the right thing in the future. They now know that even if they are caught there will be no consequences.

In response to your suggestion that we shouldn’t have targeted Video Dogs because they are a small business and that they promote the arts: We disagree.

While Video Dogs has an impressive collection of difficult to find films, it is not a public library. Video Dogs is a business designed to make profits. One of the ways the owners have kept their profits up is by underpaying their workers or not paying them at all! This is what we have a problem with.

Video Dogs is not the victim here. Owner John Mallalieu is a successful businessman having owned multiple businesses, including a bar where he allegedly also underpaid his staff. His only misfortune is that this time he was found out.

If Mallalieu was actually a supporter the arts perhaps he could consider promoting the idea that artists should be paid decent wages! UNITE believes that artists and other workers in the arts industry should be paid decent wages. Their work should be as valued as any other worker in society. In this respect Video Dogs are actually doing the arts a disservice.

We were also disappointed that Video Dogs specifically advertised for young workers and students to work for free as opposed to older workers. They have not disputed the fact that they did this because they think young people are less likely to complain about poor conditions.

As for your accusation that this dispute was a publicity stunt to promote UNITE, we do not deny this. We make no apologies for bringing to light examples of the exploitation and mistreatment of young workers. The publicity of this case has led to other workers coming forward with even more deplorable examples of exploitation. We think this is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately we can make no apologies for putting the interests of our members before those of a greedy small businessman. We think that this should be the role of a fighting trade union.

I hope this has answered some of your concerns.