EXCLUSIVE: An uber-trendy and supposedly progressive bookstore in the hipster haven of Newtown owned by a multi-millionaire has finally decided its workers deserve more than minimum wage after months of union-busting behaviour and just last week telling workers they would all be stood down with no pay as Sydney’s Covid crisis only worsened. Serkan Ozturk reports.
After months of campaigning by workers to be paid more than minimum wage on casual contracts, the multi-millionaire owner of an independent bookstore in Sydney’s alternative heartland of Newtown has finally caved but only after weeks of bullying, intimidation and threats against the brave young employees who came together to demand decent working conditions.
Workers of the Better Read Than Dead bookshop will now be able to receive $25/hour, an ability to convert from casual contracts to permanent part-time, while safety policies have also been agreed to for the first time covering bullying, workplace harassment and discrimination.
As well, workers have successfully fought for 26 weeks paid parental leave, and 20 days of paid domestic violence leave for any employee who is experiencing or supporting someone experiencing family violence.
“Each of these conditions is far superior to any major retail or fast food agreement in Australia,” the workers have said in a statement.
“It shows what is possible when workers organise in a fighting union and implement direct unwavering protected industrial action.”
The campaign by workers for decent conditions had been ongoing since March after management of the bookshop had initially agreed to bargain with its employees, then rescinded that agreement and forced workers to the Fair Work Commission.
Workers then allege management engaged in a heavy-handed union busting campaign.
“It targeted members engaged in industrial activity, including those who had shared union Facebook posts, sending cease and desist lawyer letters with threats of criminal prosecution. Workers were then issued show cause termination letters,” employees have written.
“The employer then targeted the union delegate and bargaining team member selecting them for retrenchment.”
Just last week, the bookshop’s management then declared it would be standing down all employees with no pay and locking them out of the store.
The workers’ campaign had received the support of hundreds of authors and novelists.
A crowdfundeded welfare fund was organised by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union on behalf of the workers affected by management’s decision to lock staff from the store, with the support fund raising over $20,000.
An article in literary magazine Overland in mid-July stated the workers at the hipster bookshop were essentially minimum wage slaves with no protections.
“Most of the workers at Better Read Than Dead are on casual contracts, with no job security or the option of converting from casual to permanent employment,” the article details.
“They are being paid the minimum award rate. No employee at Better Read has had the benefit of an OHS policy, or basic protections from discrimination or sexual harassment.”
The bookstore has since 2012 been operated by Parkstone Investments, a private company led by businessman and arts collector Pat Corrigan.
The wealthy Sydney businessman has been a resident of the exclusive domains of Darling Point and Vaucluse for more than 30 years. Corrigan has made his many millions from a successful career in the exporting and freight industry.
Wealthy exporter Pat Corrigan is the owner of Better Read Than Dead bookshop in Sydney’s bohemian heartland of Newtown and he had been paying all his workers minimum wage on casual contacts since 2012. Until now. (Image: Wikipedia / Supplied)
He began his career after leaving school in 1948 at the age of fifteen to work for a Unilever subsidiary, where he was employed as a junior clerk in a freight subdivision. He then started Corrigans Express in the mid-1960s where he made a name for himself shipping fashion, textiles and auxiliary machinery.
Corrigan is currently the chairman of UBI Logistics, which was established in 2009. He also holds two public company non-executive directorships at Flagship Investments Ltd and Global Masters Fund Ltd.
One former manager has publicly written he is afraid of being sued for defamation by Corrigan for detailing some of his own experiences when working at the bookshop.
“Years ago I was the Manager of BRTD for six months before I resigned in despair,” the man known as ‘Rob’ wrote.
“A lack of a good defamation lawyer prohibits me detailing my views. I stand in solidarity with the staff and I applaud the authors who have this written this splendid letter [calling for basic working conditions].”
Meanwhile, employees who are allowed back to work from today have thanked their supporters and said their win for decent working conditions shows the importance of standing together.
“Each of these conditions is far superior to any major retail or fast food agreement in Australia. It shows what is possible when workers organise in a fighting union and implement direct unwavering protected industrial action,” the employees have written.
“We are very thankful to the wider community including over 400 supporters of the Welfare Fund and almost 300 authors who signed the open letter in support of workers.”