This morning, protesters and unionists gathered outside the Better Read Than Dead (BRTD) bookstore on King St to show solidarity with BRTD workers in their continuing fight for fair working conditions and pay. The non-picket action by BRTD workers follows news of management reneging on the landmark in-principle agreement made over three months ago.
The agreement, which was notable for being the first EBA agreement secured by a bookstore in Australia, was reached after nine days of industrial action in July. The months since have seen delays and stalls by management who are now refusing to honour the agreement for parental leave, job security, full Sunday rates and an end to junior rates.
The action saw turnout from members of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), United Workers Union (UWU), Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU). As the protest took place outside the shop, workers inside BRTD began the reimplementation of industrial action through the banning of overtime, web orders, cash handling, picking returns and window displays. This reimplementation was voted for by RAFFWU members at BRTD on Wednesday.
Lucas, an organiser with RAFFWU, chaired the rally and stated that BRTD lawyers have informed RAFFWU that they will not be upholding their agreement. Emma, a worker at the bookstore and a member of RAFFWU, spoke about how the store still has no sexual harassment policy and the harassment workers have suffered from management. “We have always been willing to negotiate but this is completely outrageous and we will not be conceding on these fronts,” said Emma about the decision by management to renege on their agreement.
June, another organiser with RAFFWU, read statements of solidarity from comrades and bookstore workers in Melbourne and decried the progressive posturing of bosses who refuse to take progressive action on pay and workplace conditions.
“There is a deep understanding that each of us are linked in these struggles and that the actions of the workers at Better Read Than Dead not only improve the lives and conditions in their workplace, but in all workplaces. This is a struggle that we share.”
Luca, a former worker at BRTD, spoke of how workers put up with threats of firing from management, threats of defamation from lawyers and general abuse prior to his “unceremonious” firing approximately six months ago during the workplace dispute.
The rally ended with applause for individual BRTD workers in the crowd before groups split up to flyer up and down King St and across the Newtown area.
Expressing solidarity with BRTD workers in their fight, MUA organiser Shane Reside said, “[w]hat’s not exceptional is that there is [sic] fashionable businesses that are exploiting their workers. What I think is exceptional is that at [BRTD] there’s a group of workers who have been prepared to join their union and take collective action and that is an incredibly courageous to do and every time a group of workers decides to take action together it makes it more possible for the next group of workers to do it.”