Today Fair Work Australia will hold a preliminary hearing into several Domino’s casual delivery drivers’ applications to terminate their enterprise agreement, negotiated by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and their employer.
According to these workers the SDA has prevented drivers from receiving at least the national minimum wage for casuals of $19.63 an hour, or a higher amount under the Fast Food Award, by refusing to terminate the 11-year-old agreement with Domino’s.
Drivers were instead being paid as low as $15.51 after their wages were cut in April, and approximately $16.90 since July when an increase of $1 was negotiated by the SDA and an annual minimum wage review came into effect.
In the days leading up to today’s preliminary hearing, at least one driver has reported an additional $2 an hour in their pay.
If applied across the board this would be enough to restore drivers’ wages at some stores to similar rates as they received before April, but would still remain below the minimum wage with casual loading.
The second round of applications to terminate the 2001 enterprise agreement (pdf) was launched by Domino’s drivers without the support of the registered union for the industry.
After continued pestering by drivers, the SDA made the first application in July, only for secretary Joe de Bruyn to announce at the hearing the $1 deal had been struck with Domino’s in exchange for dropping the termination of the old agreement.
This meant Domino’s could continue paying well below the minimum wage for casuals while committing itself in good faith to negotiate an interim deal for the drivers, as well as a new enterprise agreement covering all Domino’s employees by June 2013.
Under these conditions it is difficult to see what incentive Domino’s has to raise the drivers’ wages before June next year, although this is also no guarantee.
De Bruyn explained to the hearing that last time the SDA negotiated the Domino’s enterprise agreement in 2009, the drivers were excluded:
"In those negotiations we reached an agreement for the in-store [workers]but we were not able to reach agreement for the drivers."
"We went ahead with the agreement for the in-store employees and that was certified in the normal way, but from that point on the drivers were not part of a certified agreement other than the expired one."
A broader group of around 20 to 30 drivers has since been organised under the banner of the General Transport Workers Association, formally affiliated to the ASF but loosely organised.
The GTWA drivers and their representatives are angry that the SDA appears to have done everything possible to drag out the termination of the old agreement, but they are also genuinely confused as to why.
Between April and July drivers made numerous requests to the SDA to lodge the application with Fair Work Australia, according to Dave Fregon of the ASF, who acted as a representative of one driver after the ASF was refused recognition as an organisation at the hearing.
"We wanted the SDA to make the application because they’d be taken more seriously," Fregon said.
Until finally: "On a Wednesday we told the SDA we’d submit the application if they didn’t, and on the Friday we heard from Fair Work that the hearing would go ahead."
This is the way the dispute has generally progressed, with the drivers kept in the dark, having no way of knowing for instance if the latest $2 increase reported by one driver represents a new deal.
De Bruyn did not return calls either to his mobile or the SDA national office.
While welcoming the latest potential pay increase, which could come close to the ASF’s original demand to restore wages to pre-April levels, Fregon believes it could be another ploy to stop the termination of the old agreement.
"I think what they’ll argue is they’re in continued discussions with Domino’s and here’s some evidence of progress [the $2 increase]," he said.
It is also unclear just how many members the SDA has who are Domino’s drivers, if any, according to Fregon.
"We haven’t found one," he said.
If the numbers are low it can hardly come as a surprise.
In the short space of 11 years since the SDA took over representing Domino’s drivers from the Transport Workers Union, the union has divided the workforce, and is incommunicado with the workers it nevertheless claims the right to negotiate for under Australian industrial relations law.
This is an example of the experience some of the country’s poorest paid workers with the big ALP-affiliated unions — it’s not difficult to understand why union coverage is as low as 18 per cent.
And while proving itself completely dependent on its state-legislated role in the arbitration system for its power and prestige, the SDA has failed to even secure the national minimum wage for its casualised workforce.
The GTWA drivers will know after 12:30pm today if the union they are not members of has made another deal on their behalf, or if the drivers’ application to ditch the union and at least receive minimum wage can proceed.
Conal Thwaite has previously been a member of the ASF in Melbourne.
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