Workers across the Brisbane stores of a stationery chain walked off the job on Saturday to highlight their demands for minimum award pay and conditions.
Mint My Desk, and its connected arcade chain Million Life, operates around twenty shops across the east coast of Australia. The chain has expanded rapidly in only a few years. And according to employees, the expansion has been enabled by the underpayment of the mostly young and female workforce.
In documents sent to Fair Work, and seen by Red Flag, Brisbane Mint My Desk workers accuse company bosses of a range of abuses. These include the payment of workers in cash, failure to pay superannuation, failure to pay penalty rates and failure to provide pay slips.
The underpayment of the workers, who generally work alone and are responsible for opening and closing the stores as well as securing the cash registers, usually amounts to a loss of more than $10 an hour compared to the minimum rate set out in the General Retail Award. This quickly adds up to losses in the hundreds of dollars each week, not including the superannuation.
Louisa, a socialist who has been organising the workers in Brisbane, said that staff members have previously raised the issues with the company. “Everything from the hourly rate to the fact many people don’t get payslips—they have been unwilling to fix it”, she said.
The workers decided to start a campaign for their legal rights with a bang, stopping work across the three Brisbane stores and organising a demonstration in the middle of the CBD, attended by around 50 supporters and fellow unionists. Workers carried handmade placards with slogans such as, “Mint My Desk Stole my wages!”, “If our pay doesn’t rise, we will”, and “Sell your Maserati, pay our wages”.
After a few short speeches, the workers took their chants and signs in a march through Queen Street Mall, highlighting the issue to the busy Saturday morning crowds.
It was the workers’ first experience of collective action, and the sense of nervous excitement and empowerment was palpable.
“This action is not just about these Brisbane Mint My Desk workers, it’s about the whole company and no doubt many other workplaces”, Louisa said. “So we feel it is important to stand up and speak up, to show other young workers that they can fight back when they stand as a collective.”
Having submitted their demands to the company and to the Fair Work Ombudsman, it remains to be seen how the bosses will respond.