July 8, 2019 News

By Liz Berry,
SDA Organiser

At various stores I visit, I meet some employees who are unwilling to join the SDA. Their view is that “if I don’t join the SDA, I don’t have to pay any weekly fees, but I get all the same rights and benefits”. Apart from being a self-centered viewpoint, this is just simply not true. Besides non-members missing out on many, many benefits and securities vital to an employee’s well-being at work, they are also refusing to support the members at their workplace and the achievements that the SDA has achieved and will continue to achieve in the future.

Below, I have outlined some of the major milestones that the SDA and other unions have achieved over the last 120 years.

The SDA, as we know it today, officially began in 1908 under the name of the Shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees Federation, involving the states of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, with other states joining the National Union later on. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Union changed its name to the SDA. Before this, shop assistants in Brisbane formed the precursor to the SDA in 1889, when several drapers’ assistants met together in Brisbane to start the ‘Early Closing Association’.

After several meetings, increased membership, public awareness campaigns and discussions with shopkeepers in Brisbane and the suburbs, it was finally agreed that shopkeepers would close by 6:00pm each day of the week. Back in those days, it was common for stores to be open until late during the week, so this was a significant achievement for the new union. Nowadays, Australia is famous for its 8 hour work day, a major milestone for all Australian workers. This too was a union-fought triumph which was achieved in 1947.

Meanwhile, other unions around Australia had also been achieving many other milestones. One of the most significant was the Harvester Judgement which was a union-influenced industrial court decision delivered in 1907. It required employers pay employees a fair wage that would be sufficient to support a family. It also became the first time in Australia that an industrial tribunal, rather than the employer, set wages for employees.

Campaigning for equal pay across all industries for women started in the late 1960’s. Prior to this, women in some industries were paid 25% less than men. This changed in 1972 when it was agreed that work of equal value deserved equal pay.

Paid annual leave emerged slowly, and through pressure from unions, increased to the current level (4 weeks paid) by the mid 1970’s.
Other benefits which members enjoy at work which would not exist without the SDA include lunch breaks, paid tea breaks, occupational superannuation, regular pay rises, casual loadings, paid sick leave, public holidays and public holiday loadings, workers’ compensation, safety requirements, and rostering entitlements, just to name a few. All of these rights the SDA has helped achieve in its 111 year old existence and the wages we’ve won for our members easily offset the fees required to keep the Union running effectively.


I have a challenge for you. The next time you’re talking to someone on your rest break who is not an SDA member, remind him or her that without SDA members contributing their hard-earned every week to the SDA and the Union’s hard work over the years, this paid tea break (and conversation) wouldn’t exist!