Beloved Sydney bookstore, the unlikely battleground for a union dispute that could transform workplace relationships



“Some customers are upset because their web orders were not fulfilled and [they are] Request refunds, ”said Ms. Eatock. “Other customers are moving their business elsewhere and authors are being attacked on Instagram [by members of the public] for coming to the store to do book signing. It’s just not fair. “

Ms. Eatock said the company paid premium wages, employed very few juniors, and understood that a number of casual workers had been offered permanent positions and turned them down.

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan said the shopkeepers risked public support because support for independent bookstores, especially in an area like Newtown, was tied to progressive politics.

“This is a bookstore using a socialist slogan [better red than dead] on their behalf, ”said Mr. Cullinan. “You are acting on a progressive agenda, an advanced location, and an advanced customer base.”

Earlier this year, more than 300 authors signed an open letter in the Overland Magazine supporting the union workers while an employee welfare fund helping them through the lockdown raised $ 23,000 from the public.

RAFFWU was founded five years ago after a nationwide wage scandal over shop agreements between the Conservative Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association and major employers such as Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s.

RAFFWU organizer Loukas Kakogiannis speaks at the rally in Newtown to support a union push on Better Read than Dead.Credit:Wolter Peeters

The struggle has wider implications as small businesses employ nearly half of Australia’s workforce, but most of them are not unionized. The Australian system of industrial relations technically gives all workers the right to negotiate collective terms through a company agreement, but the pay and terms at most small employers are determined by the award.

Mr Cullinan said that if the Better Read workforce were successful, it would set a “landmark” cultural precedent for small business unionizing.

“In Australia, the deals that were made in the retail and fast food sectors were very long for the mega-corporations, and they were made in a way that didn’t return any value to workers,” said Cullinan.

“[This action] is very important, and it will create a basis for others to do exactly the same. “

Cullinan said staff at Readings bookstore in Melbourne, which is a much larger company, were also trying to organize, and staff at other small retailers, not just booksellers, were closely watching the outcome.

A crowd of Newtown Community members and University of Sydney students came to support the Better Read than Dead rally.

A crowd of Newtown Community members and University of Sydney students came to support the Better Read than Dead rally.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Better Read than Dead staff has been organizing since October last year and first launched industrial action in July, including a refusal to process web orders. Mr Cullinan said they reached an agreement in principle on a corporate collective agreement in August, but the owners “dropped” that deal and hired a law firm to fight back.

Mr Cullinan said they had reached an agreement that included restoring Sunday sentences from prior to 2017, six months of parental leave, anti-bullying and harassment measures, casual-to-permanent conversion procedures, and a raise from $ 22.33 to $ 24, $ 22 was one hour.

The retail price ranges from one to eight based on experience and expertise, but without company negotiation, most retail workers in most companies are paid at the entry level. Better Read employees want to move to Level 3, with an extra dollar.


Better Read co-owner Terry Greer denied breach of an agreement, saying the full story will air on the Fair Work Commission, with the first mention set for this Thursday.

“The entire collective bargaining process has been a huge cost to a small business,” Greer said. “This was not supported by the union’s negative media campaign, which is wreaking havoc on the company struggling to survive after the lockdowns.”

Mr Greer said Better Read than Dead has three full-time, two part-time, and eight casual employees. Mr Cullinan said Better Read is a group of companies and he believes there are up to 20 employees in total.

The union also represents a former employee who has allegedly been fired for union organizing efforts and this will be tried in the federal court next year.

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