New union rises in the fast food sector

Which new union has joined the fast food sector?    

Employees in the retail and fast food sector, an industry which includes hundreds of franchise chains, now have the option to join a new union to represent their interests.

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), which launched on 21 November 2016, has been described by its secretary Josh Cullinan as "a dynamic new national union to represent the interests of retail and fast food workers in Australia”.

The establishment of the RAFFWU will generate increased competition among union activity in the space, which has until now been dominated by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the union which has represented retail, fast food and warehouse workers for the last century.

In recent years, the SDA has been losing favour, partly due to its views on social, political and moral issues, and partly due to recent cases which indicate that certain SDA-negotiated agreements may have rendered employees underpaid.

The most significant and well-known of such cases resulted in an enterprise agreement previously struck by the SDA and Coles being thrown out in May 2016, after the Fair Work Commission found that workers were being underpaid under the agreement and would have been better off under the industry award.

The RAFFWU's Josh Cullinan was instrumental in uncovering the Coles payment incongruity, and the RAFFWU was formed as a response to this and other recent national wage scandals.

The new union's advertised objectives comprise "fighting for and protecting the pay and rights of workers in the retail and fast food sectors", and the union has embarked upon a mission to "bring back the penalty rates at Coles, Woolworths, McDonald's and every other major employer  in the Australian retail and fast food sectors".

The RAFFWU is in direct competition with the SDA for members, and has announced its intention to pursue workers of certain franchises for membership recruitment, specifically naming franchised food brands McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks, Red Rooster, KFC and Domino’s as its targets.

The union’s future actions will be of particular interest to the many franchise chains that have negotiated enterprise agreements with the SDA which traded some penalty rates for other benefits. The RAFFWU intends to attempt to overturn such enterprise agreements and restore what it considers "full penalty rates" to employees.  

The RAFFWU's agitations will likely improve transparency regarding wage rates and entitlements in the industry, and, if the union is successful in achieving its stated objectives, it will assist in securing fairer pay and better working conditions for retail and fast food employees.  This may in turn assist franchisors and other employers in the sector to attract and retain quality employees.