Workers at The Reject Shop warehouse in Melbourne’s north-west have faced down a serious attack by management during enterprise agreement bargaining. NUW (National Union of Workers) delegate Dave Sharpe – who was stood down for more than two weeks – spoke to Red Flag about what they’re fighting for.

Bargaining for a new agreement started in April. Management stonewalled workers on their pay claim, battering their initial demand for 7 percent per year down to 4 percent and then to 3.2 percent. Until recently, the company was offering only a 2.7 percent per year pay rise if the workers traded-off a raft of conditions, including half of their long service and redundancy entitlements. “They want to make savings through our conditions”, Dave says.

Casual work is also at the forefront of The Reject Shop workers’ campaign. Management wants to increase the proportion of casual workers from between 25 to 40 percent of the site (based on seasonal variations) to 50 percent. “As soon as you mention casualisation people say ‘yeah, that’s affected me or my family’”, Dave says. “Agencies have control of the casuals put into the workforce, they don’t actually give a shit about them.”

“An English man even signed one of our petitions at a Reject Shop store because he was made casual back home. This is obviously a global issue. We need ratios to push [the company] to hire permanents, or else they will just fill the workforce with casuals.”

The Reject Shop warehouse workers have so far fought the company’s plans. They’ve visited company shops to talk to customers about the way they’ve been treated and gate-crashed the retail chain’s recent annual general meeting. Importantly, they struck for 24 hours on 15 October.

It was after this that Dave was stood down. “The company thinks that with me out of the way they will benefit”, Dave told Red Flag at the time. “I think they’ve made the wrong decision”, he said. “It’s just made everyone more angry. People read the company’s claims themselves, and they’re not idiots. They know what’s going on, they don’t need a delegate to tell them.”

Dave was spot on. Recently, the company heard “rumours” that the workers were going to vote down its latest proposal and vote up further industrial action. Dave was reinstated after being home for more than two weeks. The Reject Shop has also put a new offer to the workers which concedes many of their demands.

But management haven’t backed down on everything; they are still refusing to drop their plan to increase the number of casuals to half the workforce. The company also further reduced its pay offer to an annual average of less than 2.2 percent over the length of the agreement, well below inflation.

According to NUW industrial officer Dario Mujkic, “Dave had the full support of his workmates and we are happy to have him back. The company has backed down on most claims, but it’s not over yet.”

Dave says he is relieved to be reinstated. “I really appreciate the support from everyone at the warehouse, and the trade union movement in general really got behind me. They can see we’ve got a battle on our hands.”

“They [The Reject Shop] are worth millions, but they are still determined to take from us. The members have stayed strong and they are continuing the campaign.”