15 June, New Matilda: Domino’s Pizza has just discovered it can cut the wages of its delivery drivers thanks to a wage agreement loophole – and it’s the Anarchists who are taking the case to arbitration, reports Conal Thwaite
Industrial disputes are always good for a yarn and the one happening at Domino’s Pizza shops across Australia right now is more deliciously intriguing than usual.
At 7pm this Saturday night a one-hour weekly roving picket will descend on Domino’s, this time on Grattan Street in Carlton, Melbourne. Nothing will be blocked going in or out. Rather, leaflets and a limited amount of free homemade pizza will be delivered to customers who shun the Domino’s brand.
Why? According to the union organising the protests causal delivery drivers at Dominos face a wage-cut of almost a fifth of their income.
The union will represent its members to Fair Work Australia (FWA) on 16 July and has organised several related protests in Brisbane including one at Domino’s national HQ. The union in question is not the registered one for the industry but a small group of anarchists called the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF) — several of whom work as Domino’s drivers in Brisbane.
The drivers’ registered union is the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees (SDA), the largest union in Australia. It claims some 230,000 members and has been controlled by the Catholic Right of the ALP for decades.
The wage cut, which the ASF calculates at 19.5 per cent, affects casual drivers nationally but has been introduced haphazardly. Ironically it came about after more than 20 employees, mostly delivery drivers, complained to the federal Fair Work Ombudsman that they were being underpaid. In February Domino’s agreed to self-audit their pay-rates only to conclude they had been overpaying the drivers.
In April, adult casual wages for delivery drivers were cut to $15.51 an hour from as much as $18.52 an hour, according to the Courier Mail. Secretary Joe de Bruyn said that the wage-cut was “extraordinary” and that he could not understand why casual drivers were being paid significantly less than in-store workers. Their rates can be as high as $20.86 an hour.
But a spokesperson for the ASF in Brisbane said the reason is that “delivery assistants” have not been incorporated into amendments to the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiated by the SDA in 2001. That agreement provided wage increases only until 2003.
NM contacted Domino’s but was directed to an April media release that does not explain their reasoning for the wage cut other than it being approved by the Ombudsman. Joe de Bruyn was also unavailable for comment.
It’s a complicated situation. Many drivers are still trying to make sense of the situation and work out where they stand. Whirlpool, a site usually reserved for discussing telecommunication technologies, has provided an unlikely forum for discussion, as shown by this massive thread that erupted quite spontaneously on the site.
In the forum drivers discuss the merits of joining a union, the sheer complexity of industrial relations law, trolling, and working legally-or-otherwise while on student visas. It should make interesting reading for both the SDA, who receive a lot of negative comments, and the ASF, who don’t get a mention.
Examination of the 2001 agreement (pdf) negotiated by the SDA indicates that the rates of pay for casual delivery assistants (along with payments per delivery and other loadings) are determined separately to in-store or other staff for whom there are three levels of pay depending on duration of employment and level of training.
However, updates to the agreement such as the latest version (pdf) on the SDA website refer to the three levels of pay for casuals and permanent employees — but not to delivery assistants.
That has allowed Domino’s to argue to the Ombudsman that the last updated pay-rates of the 2001 agreement, those from 2003, remain valid for the drivers — thus eliminating almost ten years of adjustments for inflation. This has required a fair amount of legal argy-bargy to ensure that a delivery assistant cannot fall into any of the three other pay scales, according to the ASF in Brisbane.
To make matters even more complicated, prior to the national agreement negotiated between the SDA and Domino’s in 2001, in Queensland at least, “delivery drivers” were covered by an agreement negotiated between the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and Sylvio’s Pizza (as Sylvio’s later became the Australian arm of Domino’s global chain). This agreement is still available on the FWA website and was updated quite recently — in 2009. That’s the same year the SDA agreement was last updated.
But according to Scott Connolly, the Assistant State Secretary of the Queensland branch of the TWU, the union has not had members in the industry for years — not since the SDA-Domino’s agreement came into effect.
“While we may have concerns about what’s happening about the rates, we haven’t got members there at the moment that we’re representing,” Connolly told NM.
It appears that most if not all drivers today are employed as delivery assistants under the SDA agreement, and whether the wage-cut will stand or a new EBA be negotiated is what will be determined by FWA next month.
On 16 July the ASF-Brisbane will represent its members to the FWA hearing in Melbourne via Skype link-up. This in itself is an interesting move considering the group typically rejects state arbitration on principle.
Further, it used to be that only the registered union could represent workers at arbitration so the SDA will also be attending. However, thanks to reforms by the Howard government, workers are able to choose their own representatives — hence the presence of the anarchists.
The ASF is more used to performing snap protests at large retail and hospitality chains, usually in solidarity with its global affiliates through the International Workers Association (IWA). Most recently they targeted Roche Pharmaceuticals in solidarity with workers in Poland facing casualisation.
A spokesperson for the ASF in Melbourne confirmed that international escalation of this kind is an option in the Domino’s case. The company has outlets across Europe where most IWA affiliates are based.
In the meantime, Domino’s customers in Melbourne will be given the chance to show solidarity and eat homemade pizza in support of the drivers.