Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Workplace Relations

6:30 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to express my support for the recently formed online retail and delivery workers alliance. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday in the United States. As many listeners would be aware, Black Friday is associated with discount retail sales both in stores and online. This is a phenomenon that in recent years has begun to spread to Australia. Some of the online retailers that push the Black Friday sales have also spread to Australia, most notably Amazon. Whilst new and innovative ways of working are always welcome here, what will never be welcome here is old-fashioned worker exploitation dressed up in shiny new economy clothing.

I want to put briefly on the record my concerns about the culture of Amazon. Beginning its rise in America, Amazon now operates online through Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China and India, and, since late last year, Australia. With an annual turnover in excess of $600 billion, it takes around five per cent of all retail sales in its native USA. Their motto, 'your margin is my opportunity', I'm sure is chilling to the ears of Australian retailers. What we heard through an Australian Financial Review article in 2016 is that this company wants to destroy the retail environment in Australia.

So it's probably unsurprising that this year Black Friday across the world was not just about markdowns; it was marked by protests. Amazon has particularly been in the spotlight over poor working conditions, with workers across Europe and the US last Friday holding strikes and demonstrations. We've heard the horror stories from the UK's GMB union—ambulances being called out 600 times to 14 Amazon warehouses over three years, and a pregnant woman forced to stand for 10 hours a day. In the US, Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill which would tax employers like Amazon when their workers need government assistance such as food stamps and medical help. These protests come as unions from across the world recently formed the Amazon Alliance, with a commitment to work together to organise workers in Amazon. Last week, 67 union leaders from 17 countries committed to organising to change the way Amazon treats its workers. Amazon globally has a reputation for its union-busting activity, doing everything it can to avoid having workers in its company collectively working together to improve their lot.

Amazon is welcome in Australia, but poor working conditions and union-busting activities are not. We'd ask that, in Australia, Amazon works with workers and their unions to have a successful business with fair conditions and secure jobs. But, unfortunately, the early signs here in Australia are worrying. In Australia the SDA, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association—the union for retail workers, online retail workers and warehouse workers, and my union—have been organising workers in Amazon's fulfilment centres. The SDA has had some significant success in organising workers, despite lunch room visits by union officials and their conversations with employees being monitored by management representatives, who often remain prominently in the lunch room for the whole time the union officials are there. But workers are starting to band together. They're coming together despite being pitted against one another through employment arrangements where online retail workers are employed through a labour hire agency, Adecco, rather than being directly employed by Amazon. We know that labour hire employment is insecure employment and often carries poorer pay and work conditions than direct, permanent employment.

Labor always works closely with the unions to achieve better worker outcomes and has a policy to stamp out dodgy labour hire. It's our 'same job, same pay' policy. I'm pleased to hear that workers at the Amazon fulfilment centre are joining the union, withstanding undue pressure from the labour hire agency who made it clear that they didn't want any caps or lanyards with union logos on their premises. Workers are banding together, even after the first worker to join the union in the Amazon fulfilment centre, Raj, was sacked. The SDA has filed proceedings in the Fair Work Commission where it will be alleged that the employee was sacked for being in the union and having the hide to ask for more hours of work. The application before the Fair Work Commission is a general protections application involving dismissal. Raj has worked in warehouses for 20 years. He's a hard worker and a good worker. He and his wife, who works in retail, have built a life together and raised two sons together on a modest income in south-west Sydney. They've worked hard and put both sons through university. One son has gone on to become a doctor and the other a solicitor. Raj doesn't understand why he was sacked. He just wants to go back to work at Amazon and keep working hard, keep building a life and be a member of his union. Amazon needs to respect the workers in their fulfilment centres in Australia. They should respect their workers' rights to join a union. The overseas Amazon approach of union-busting is not welcome here.

To strengthen the ability to organise online retail workers and delivery drivers, two of Australia's largest unions, the SDA and the Transport Workers' Union, have set up the Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance, an alliance aimed at bringing fair standards to the growing online industry. The move to change the rules and build the Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance comes as retail unions globally in Union Network International, including the SDA, have formed the Global Amazon Alliance. Also, the global unions for retail workers and for delivery workers, UNI and the International Transport Workers' Federation, have agreed to work closely together to organise Amazon, and the campaign to change the rules in Australia to allow workers to bargain through the supply chain gains momentum.

The SDA believe that the Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance will bring together all workers in the online retail businesses supply chain, no matter how they are hired, to improve their working life. Already, over 2,000 workers in online retail in New South Wales alone have joined the SDA, the online retail workers union. Combine this with delivery drivers, and the alliance will take the cooperation of the SDA and the TWU in this area to a new level as part of the global union movement's campaign to provide security for workers in the online retail industry. Through this alliance, the SDA and TWU will support each other to reach out to workers within the Amazon retail and transport supply chain in Australia to make sure they know about their rights as workers and how to exercise them. The SDA has seen some shocking examples of workers in online retailers overseas being subjected to appalling working conditions. We cannot afford to let that happen in Australia. That's why the SDA and TWU are taking the unprecedented step of joining together to maximise union capacity to protect workers in the online retail industry.

The TWU know that fair working conditions and safe workplaces are inextricably linked. Nowhere is this more acute than when it comes to transport in the retail supply chain, which sadly has high rates of deaths and injuries. I echo the call of the International Trade Union Confederation for Amazon to work with the Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance to ensure respect for workers and the community in Australia. General Secretary of the ITUC, Sharan Burrow, has supported the new alliance and recently said that the ITUC stands in solidarity with the SDA and TWU Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance in Australia and undertakes to support them in their endeavours to bring respect and fairness to Amazon workplaces.

Fair-minded Australian retailers who rightly call for a level playing field with overseas online retailers on GST should also support any moves to ensure a level playing field in the way workers are treated by overseas online retailers who set up shop in Australia. This initiative to organise the supply chain will help level that playing field. Amazon is welcome in Australia if they accept that, here, workers are entitled to secure work, workers are entitled to fair treatment at work and workers are absolutely entitled to join their union.

I want to encourage any Amazon workers who might be listening to or watching this speech to please consider joining a union. You can find out more information about the SDA online at and information about the TWU at Lower prices are welcome only if they come through better ways of working and not through ripping off workers through lower pay and inferior conditions. Our unions are here to help and to make sure that this doesn't happen in Australia.

Like the International Trade Union Confederation, we too stand in solidarity with the SDA and TWU Online Retail and Delivery Workers Alliance in Australia. I look forward to fighting alongside them with my Labor colleagues as they change the rules. I put on record here our unwavering support for their endeavours to bring respect and fairness to Amazon workplaces, starting right here in Australia.