Victory at Leichhardt café

Victory at Leichhardt café!

Solidarity and direct action win the day

The back story

Sydney Solidarity Network was contacted by CJ, a worker who was exploited and sexually harassed. She is a traveler on a working holiday visa who started working at a café in Leichhardt in early March. There were problems from the beginning. The boss would continually try to touch her and other women against their will. She was paid only $17 per hour, which is below the Restaurant Award wage ($22.24 on weekdays and $26.69 on weekends, for casuals).

The pay was cash-in-hand, and the boss would always pay late. No contracts were signed and the boss never asked for their tax file numbers. There were other workers who were fired on the spot, with no notice, for no reason. When CJ spoke up, she was taken off the shift roster, with no notice. She decided to quit. She asked the boss to pay her outstanding wages (at $17 per hour): $433.50. He refused, and one of the supervisors slapped the face of CJ’s friend who was there to support her. The cops were called but they didn’t help CJ, but instead told her to come back a few days later as the boss requested. When she came back the boss only paid her $200 and withheld the rest ‘for damages to property’ – a completely fictitious claim.

So CJ contacted SydSol and asked for help to get back her stolen wages. Together, we demanded that the boss pay CJ the full $1,108.70 she was owed – which would bring her wages up to the award minimum for the hours she worked.

Exploitative, violent, disrespectful, and sexist behaviour by bosses, supervisors and cops is all too common – in the hospitality industry and elsewhere. But in this case, the workers decided to stand up and say “NO!”

Sydney Solidarity Network takes action

Over a two week period, SydSol organised 3 actions at the café. The actions were lively and energetic, with chanting, singing, banners, placards and leaflets. Between 20 and 40 SydSol supporters came to each action. During the actions we gave out almost 1,000 leaflets to passersby, telling CJ’s story. We had lots of conversations and caused much discussion on the busy Leichhardt street! Most passersby were very supportive. Each action lasted for around 2 hours, during which time almost no customers went to the café.
At first the boss refused to pay. He started off trying to ignore us, but soon found that didn’t work. He then became more antagonistic, publishing defamatory messages about the ex-worker, throwing buckets of water at the protestors and threatening to break someone’s arm! The boss called the police a number of times, but no arrests were made. He even hired musicians to try to drown our our chanting! But we kept going!

Victory!

After the third action the boss paid the full amount owed to CJ. We won! As part of the settlement, SydSol participants agreed to remove the name of the café from our website and social media posts.

CJ was overjoyed and even decided to donate part of the money she was paid to Grandmothers Against Removals, and an activist legal fund, to spread the solidarity!

Another worker from the same café also quit during the period SydSol was taking action, because of similar issues with her employment. However that worker told us that, to her surprise, the boss paid her what she was owed – almost certainly because of our actions!

This was a great campaign, which resulted in a real victory for workers. We came together as a solidarity network and strengthened our organisation and ability to take action. We showed the power of direct action – action taken by oppressed people ourselves, on our own terms, and in our own interests.

What next?

Sydney Solidarity Network continues – but we need you!

Sign up to our supporters email list, to get updates and action alerts: http://eepurl.com/UGQev and get your friends to sign up too!

Come along to our meeting/picnic at 3pm on Saturday 14th May in Camperdown Park, followed by celebratory drinks from 5pm at the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown. (In case of poor weather, we’ll be in the Courthouse Hotel from 3pm.) We need more people to get involved in the SydSol organising group!

Share this story on social media and tell your friends about it!

We also ask you to think about any issues in your own life, and the lives of your friends and families, to identify the problems in your workplace and your community. Problems which can be changed through direct action – like underpayments, bullying, landlords refusing to do repairs, or real estate agents evicting you without reason. And get in touch about taking action together to fix these problems!

[Leichhardt] Café – pay up!

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Since last week, SydSol has been taking action in support of CJ, a worker who was harassed and exploited during her time as a staff member at [a café] in Leichhardt.

CJ began working at [a café in Leichhardt] in early March, and there were problems from the beginning. The boss would continually try to touch her and other women against their will. She was paid only $17 per hour, which is far below the Restaurant Award minimum wage ($22.24 on weekdays and $26.69 on weekends, for casuals).

The pay was cash-in-hand, and the boss would always pay late. No contracts were signed and the boss never asked for their tax file numbers. Some workers were fired on the spot, with no notice, for no reason. When CJ spoke up, she was taken off the shift roster. She decided to quit. She asked the boss to pay her outstanding wages (at $17 per hour): $433.50. He refused, and one of the supervisors even physically assaulted CJ’s friend who was there to support her. Eventually, the boss only paid her $200 and withheld the rest ‘for damages to property’ – a completely fictitious claim.

CJ contacted SydSol and asked for help to get back her stolen wages. CJ is demanding the boss pay her the full $1,108.70 she is owed – which would bring her wages up to the legal award minimum for the hours she worked.

So far, the boss is not paying, and until he does SydSol is organising regular protests to let potential customers know how [this café] treats its staff. The response from passers-by has been extremely positive. The boss is also clearly feeling the pressure, threatening and behaving aggressively towards SydSol members, assaulting a female protester and even throwing large buckets of water at several people.

Exploitative, violent, sexist behaviour by bosses and supervisors is all too common – both in hospitality and elsewhere. But when we stand up together, we can show that we don’t have to put up with it!

Victory at cafe in Redfern!

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Sydsol wins again! After three actions at the Perfect Cup cafe in Redfern, Josie has been paid her superannuation. This was only $365 which was a tiny proportion of the profits the boss would have gained from her labour.

Josie had worked at Perfect Cup for three months but had not been paid any superannuation. All employees earning over $450 in a month are entitled to 9.25% superannuation on top of wages earned, but despite multiple requests, Perfect Cup refused to pay up. So SydSol took action.

Josie writes: “The last visit was a memorable experience. Fifteen of us walked with the Sydsol banner from Regent street along Redfern Street, settled ourselves outside the cafe, and handed out flyers to passers by while we chanted ‘Pay Josie her super!’ and ‘The people united will never be defeated!’ The boss was visibly rattled and tried all manner of things to get rid of us – statements, pleas, lies, insults, bargaining, empty threats of calling the police and finally a promise to pay me on Monday etc. He thought he may prompt us to leave by stating: ‘You are affecting my business’, but of course that didn’t work, as the answer was: ‘Good. That’s what we are here for’.”

“We stood fast for at least our planned time which was half an hour. The public walking by were also very interested and supportive except for a couple who seemed to have been invited by the boss to provoke a stoush which very nearly happened.  It was so good to see the boss for once beholden to the workers instead of the other way around. I felt so empowered when I confronted him and said, ‘You are a liar. I don’t trust you. I don’t believe a word you are saying. Only when I see the money transferred will I believe you. We are going to keep coming back here until you pay up.’ Even after this experience he thought he could get away with not paying me. I had to remind him again via text and it took him three weeks after the latest action to finally pay up.”

“However, I was determined not to give up so I knew, no matter how long it took, I was going to win. Nevertheless, I could not have done it without the help of everyone who organised, advertised and turned up. Viva SydSol!!”

Quick win in Marrickville wage-theft fight

In late May over 25 members and supporters of the Sydney Solidarity Network turned out to support Josie, a worker in Marrickville, as she demanded backpay from her former employer.

Josie had worked for SaveMore, a company which owns a grocery store and a pharmacy in Marrickville. She worked a ‘trial shift’ and then a second shift there in January and February this year, but was not paid for either shift. Despite Josie repeatedly requesting payment, via letters, phone calls and enquiries through her job provider, SaveMore refused to pay for either shift.

So, after months of being ignored, Josie decided enough was enough. With the support of dozens of SydSol members and supporters, Josie confronted SaveMore’s owner, My Trang Nguyen, and presented a letter demanding what was legally hers – wages for the hours that she had worked. If SaveMore did not pay up within two weeks, we promised to return to leaflet passers-by and potential customers to let them know about SaveMore’s shady employment practices.

For several days afterwards SaveMore lied that Josie had never worked for them. Then they agreed that she had, but tried to talk her into accepting less than the minimum wage. Then, when it was clear that Josie wasn’t backing down, they paid up at the minimum wage for a casual pharmacy assistant of $22.48 per hour for four of the seven hours Josie had worked. Although not the full amount, it’s close enough that we’re satisfied and consider it a victory!

Illegal practices like wage-theft and below minimum wage payment are unfortunately very common in the inner-west. However, SydSol has shown that with a bit of organisation it’s possible to get what you’re owed! If you’re being ripped off, contact us today and let’s fight to win.

SYDSOL WINS BACKPAY FOR RESTAURANT WORKER

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In November 2013, SydSol was contacted by a restaurant worker who had been seriously underpaid. Haruki* was an international student who had worked at one branch of a large restaurant chain* for nine months, and for the entire length of his employment was paid well below the minimum wage.

Under the Restaurant Industry Award, which sets the minimum wages for the industry, a casual cook such as Haruki should have been earning at least $21.86 per hour – his payslips, however, showed rates of $16 per hour. On Saturdays, the minimum rises to $26.24 per hour, but Haruki’s pay was only $17 per hour. And on Sundays he was paid at $18 per hour, a whopping $12.61 per hour below the minimum rate. All told, Haruki was cheated out of almost $4,500.

After discussing the matter with Haruki, SydSol agreed to support him in taking action to try to reclaim his lost wages. On 16 November, eight members and supporters of SydSol marched into the restaurant where he had worked. We presented a letter to the restaurant’s manager stating that unless full backpay was provided to their former staff member within 14 days, we would commence escalating protest action.

Less than two weeks later, Haruki was contacted by the managing director of the entire chain (not just the offending outlet). A meeting was organised at which Haruki and the managing director negotiated an outcome that was satisfactory to both.

* Names have been changed for privacy reasons

Victory! SydSol forces Contact Centres to pay up

 

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With less than 48 hours to go before their two-week deadline expired, Contact Centres Australia have caved in to our demands and paid Chris in full for the seven-hour training shift he undertook whilst employed there.

Chris took a second job at Contact Centres for several weeks in April this year. Whilst he received wages for almost all the hours he worked there, after quitting he was never paid for a full-day training shift he undertook. The law requires all employers to pay staff for all time spent working, including training shifts, but despite this Contact Centres simply refused to pay up.

For months Chris sent email after email asking why he had not been paid for all the hours he put in at CCA, but was completely ignored and never received a reply. Chris then turned up with 15 other members of SydSol, confronted management in their offices with a letter demanding payment, and threatened to organise protests outside their offices if payment was not received within 14 days – and then, after months of silence, Contact Centres rushed to pay up in a matter of days.

The message for any other employees anywhere else is clear: bosses – even massive employers such as Contact Centres with overseas offices and over 500 staff – are vulnerable to our actions and, with a bit of organisation, we can force them to give in to our demands. If you’re getting ripped off by your employer, contact SydSol, get organised and let’s fight to win!

SydSol launches!

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Welcome to Sydney Solidarity Network! We are a new, all-volunteer group of workers, students and unemployed who want to come together to defend our rights through collective action.

We believe it is up to us to make our own solutions. We are launching this network because we know that thousands of us face unfair job conditions, and we believe that as community members we can successfully stand up together to powerful bosses when they treat us unjustly. As isolated individuals we have no power, but if we organise and stick together we can be a force to be reckoned with.

We are inspired by similar groups overseas and in Australia, who have used direct action tactics such as pickets, workplace organising and phone blasts to win specific demands and redress the wrongs inflicted upon us by employers, and we want to be able to do the same in Sydney. For an idea of the sort of victories that we want to win, have a look at his video below from  the Seattle Solidarity Network below, or these two stories (1, 2) from UNITE, a small union for retail and hospitality workers in Melbourne.

We are only in our early stages, but if you’re experiencing problems at work contact us and let’s fight to win!

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