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Historic win for local shop workers

Friday, 13th February, 2015

SDA Secretary, Peter Malinauskas SDA Secretary, Peter Malinauskas

By Craig Brealey

Broken Hill is now the only place in Australia where shop workers will be paid a district allowance after their union won an historic case this week.

The allowance of 4.28 per cent over and above the award rate of pay was abolished in the so-called “modernisation” of industrial awards which amalgamated State awards into a national retail award.

In the process Broken Hill shop workers lost one week of paid annual leave and the Broken Hill allowance, which expired on December 31 last year.

But the Secretary of the city’s biggest union, the SDA, Peter Malinauskas, said the union, inspired by Broken Hill’s fighting labour tradition, was determined to have that decision overturned. 

“As that date approached we joined the ACTU in an appeal to have the district allowance preserved across the country,” Mr Malinauskas told the BDT yesterday.

The Fair Work Commission ruled against this on Wednesday but made an exception for Broken Hill.

The explanation was simple: “Because we showed up and made the argument,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“To remove the allowance meant their wages were going backwards overnight by 4.8 per cent.

“For someone earning about $36,000 a year, that would have an adverse impact on a family or someone’s budget and we didn’t think that should occur.”

Mr Malinauskas said this argument was opposed by the national Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry group who described the allowance as “irrelevant” and “no longer necessary”.

The Fair Work Commission, in its ruling, noted that Broken Hill’s special case had apparently been overlooked during the amalgamation of the industrial awards by everyone but the SDA.

“Little or no attention was given to this matter by most parties to the proceedings,” the Fair Work Commission stated. 

It also acknowledged the city’s unique situation.

“We note that the Broken Hill allowance is in different terms to the transitional provisions relating to district allowances in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. 

“The entitlement...is specified in the four awards and is expressed as a percentage figure of the standard rate under the award. It does not require reference to any other instruments. 

“The calculation of the allowance is therefore straightforward and the allowance is not a term or condition of employment determined by reference to State or Territory boundaries.” 

The SDA has about 500 members in Broken Hill who work at places like Woolworths, Coles, Big W and McDonald’s and also in small retail and takeaway food shops. All are covered by the union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement.

The continued advocacy by the SDA means they along with fellow union members in pharmacies and hair and beauty salons will no longer have their take home pay cut.

“The SDA has now maintained a long and proud industrial tradition in Broken Hill in recognition of the relative remoteness of Broken Hill and the hard-fought and won conditions for workers in the past,” said Mr Malinauskas, who started his working life as a trolley boy at Woolworths in Adelaide before gaining a degree in commerce.

“Broken Hill has an incredibly proud union history, and we are the custodians of that long-standing tradition.

“If the allowance was taken away, it would have been lost forever.”

The SDA is now putting a draft order in place for the allowance to be reinstated, something that Mr Malinauskas said could be achieved “within months.”

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