Inner West Independent

​​One for the books: a victory sweeter than fiction for Newtown bookstore workers

Newtown bookstore Better Read Than Dead reaches enterprise agreement after campaign from workers. Photo: Facebook

By ELYSIA COOK

Independent Newtown bookstore Better Read Than Dead reached an in-principle enterprise agreement with its workers this month.

The enterprise bargaining agreement is a first for non-university bookshops in the country, and the workers are now the best paid booksellers in Australia. 

Dymocks Chatswood Manager Mark Hopson told the Independent that the successful industrial action had set an inspiring precedent for workers in the retail sector more widely.

“This industrial action benefits everyone working in retail, not just staff within the book industry. As a retail worker we wear many hats that you don’t see behind the scenes, and it is important that this is recognised.”

In March, the unionised workers notified store management that they wanted to negotiate an EBA.

Management declined to bargain until June, conceding for a short period in which two unsuccessful meetings were adjourned.

The bookstore’s management said that initial claims for 5% wage increases, and 75 days of paid leave were denied because they would have bankrupted the store.

The workers voted unanimously on a protected industrial action ballot, which allowed them to strike without retaliation.

Unionised workers first implemented a ban on working overtime, handling cash and any work associated with window displays, in a second ban workers refused returns and click and collect orders. 

This led to the alleged lockout of the workers by management and eventually, a third and successful round of negotiations.

Several of the triumphant key claims were outlined in the bookshop’s online statement.

“All staff will remain covered by the General Retail Industry Award pay guide which indicates a minimum casual pay of $27.23 per hour.

“[We] have additionally approved 26 weeks of paid parental leave, regardless of gender, and 20 days paid leave for all workers experiencing intimate partner, domestic or family abuse. The EBA will support casual staff to move to permanent part-time positions, at a pay rate above the award.”

Local story goes international 

Inner West Councillor Pauline Lockie told the Independent, “Better Read Than Dead is a Newtown institution, and I know many of us in the local community were shocked to learn about the issues its staff were facing.”

International and local authors signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with the workers.

“When the open letter went public it blew up in the best possible way,” said BRTD worker Madeleine Gray in a Facebook live hosted by the Retail and Fast-Food Workers Union on Friday the 27th.

“Our job as booksellers is to share the word of authors with our community. Now the authors were sharing our words and our story.”

Josh Cullinan, Secretary of the Retail and Fast-Food Workers Union, encourages all retail and fast food workers to organise.

“Those workers have shown that anything is possible when workers come together in a fighting union, work collectively and take direct action,” he told the Independent. 

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