Apple retail workers across Australia have resoundingly defeated an attempt by the world’s richest corporation to force through a non-union enterprise agreement.
The victory follows unprecedented industrial action, for both Apple’s operations in Australia and the retail sector more generally, which has set the stage for a renewed push for better rights and conditions for workers, who are campaigning under the re-appropriated Apple slogan of “Good enough, isn’t”.
Of Apple’s 4,000 retail employees, 68 percent voted “no” in a ballot, with a participation rate of 87 percent. The proposed agreement offered a measly 2.6 percent pay rise each year over the next four years—and only to those workers on the agreement’s lowest wage classification. This offer is well below inflation, which is 7.3 percent.
The Apple retail enterprise agreement was first implemented in 2014 without the involvement of retail unions and has remained in operation despite expiring in 2018. The $22 minimum wage set by the agreement for full-time workers has not increased significantly since.
Three unions are involved in the negotiations: the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the Australian Services Union and the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU). Only RAFFWU has organised Apple workers to take collective action and to be present in negotiations.
On 29 October, an estimated 200 Apple retail workers at stores in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle and Adelaide, organised by RAFFWU, walked off their jobs for an hour-long stoppage to demand a better enterprise agreement. This followed the first nationally coordinated retail strike in Australian history on 18 October and a 24-hour work stoppage on 22 October, challenging long-held assumptions that it is impossible to organise coordinated industrial action in the retail sector.
It is also significant that RAFFWU, an unregistered union, has been able to organise these strikes. The action shows that the current industrial laws do allow rank-and-file workers, through their bargaining representatives, to organise legal industrial action—important to note when many unions have been avoiding action during the current cost-of-living crisis.
A long-time retail worker and RAFFWU member told Red Flag that Apple workers are being “ripped off by this heartless company”. Apple can hardly cry poor; the company made $11 billion in sales in Australia last year, and the global business is valued at $2.4 trillion. Apple claims that it is a model employer, citing “LGBTI inclusivity” and “pay transparency”. But its hypocrisy is demonstrated by the fact that it denies LGBTI workers gender affirmation leave and prevents workers from discussing their individual pay rates.
The October actions follow successful unionisation drives at Apple stores in the United States and Britain. Workers in Oklahoma City, Baltimore and Glasgow voted to unionise their stores this year, which encouraged Apple workers in Australia to act. Union leaders in the US have claimed that more than two dozen other stores have expressed interest in unionising.
Apple management in the US has responded by increasing the minimum wage of its retail workers from US$20 to US$22. Similarly, RAFFWU’s industrial action in response to Apple’s dodgy pay deal back in August forced management to offer a 17 percent increase to the minimum pay rate, which is now $27.64—still short of the union’s demand for $31.
As rising inflation eats into workers’ living standards, retail workers at Apple are setting an example for workers elsewhere on how to challenge the soaring cost of living.
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