Brisbane employees of stationary chain Mint My Desk and Million Life arcades took industrial action for the second time in less than a week on Wednesday.
The workers first went on strike last Saturday to protest against the company paying them below the minimum wage, cash in hand, without penalty rates, pay slips or superannuation.
The company responded with hubris and intransigence. On Sunday, workers were offered a contract that dubiously categorised workers as Level 1 Retail Employees, when staff perform tasks such as opening and closing the store, which are in the remit of the higher-paid Level 3 Employees.
The contract didn’t contain penalty rates and was fixed-term—set to last only until December. No assurances were made of back pay.
The next day, Mint My Desk announced that two of three Brisbane stores would be closed due to “declining sales” that were “publicity influenced”.
On Monday night, Mint My Desk workers voted unanimously to reject the company’s contract, and to take industrial action if their demands were not met by Wednesday’s pay day.
On a statement released on social media, Mint Workers United described the company’s move to close stores as a “lockout”—punishment for workers having taken industrial action. Their statement read: “If they don’t comply we will be taking further action. We will fight until we win.”
On Wednesday morning, the company made a minor concession by paying workers through bank transfer rather than cash, but at rates still below those set out in the retail industrial Award. And they still didn’t get payslips.
Making good on their threat of further action, Mint My Desk workers gathered in the afternoon for a second public rally.
Holly, the coordinator of the Mint My Desk TikTok told Red Flag:
“It’s disappointing to see something so simple be denied to us repeatedly. The bosses have been demanding that we talk to them respectfully, but they certainly haven’t showed us any respect by underpaying us for so long and not fixing it now.”
Due to the lockout cutting shifts for most workers, only one employee, Charley, was rostered on during the action, and workers posted a video to social media of the Garden City store being shut down as workers and supporters travelled to the CBD for a public action.
Shortly after arriving at the rally, Charley was texted by one of the company owners and told that they had been “stood down”.
“I have no doubt that me being threatened to be fired is merely just a scare tactic [against] me and my coworkers, to stop our campaign and to stop fighting for our rights”, Charley told Red Flag. “But this doesn’t scare us at all actually; this just fuels us more to stand strong together.”
Workers gathered for speeches in the city, and then marched through Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, with significant support from onlookers, some of whom joined the rally.
Louisa McCarthy, a spokesperson for Mint Workers United and a socialist, told Red Flag:
“Young people have a lot to fight for at the moment. We are being slammed with soaring rents and a cost-of-living crisis. Many of us are also in dodgy retail or hospitality jobs, where we are paid below the already low minimum wage. What we need is a fightback. For us at Mint My Desk Workers United, that’s the exact message we have: young workers should and can fight back.”