Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Chalk one up to the McWorkers!

I'm not a huge fan of Matt McCarten's style of unionism - I find it a bit blokey, strident and 'I'll talk, you listen' - but I have to well and truly take my hat off to the work Unite has been doing amongst fast food workers. Unite goes where other unions fear to tread, collectivising the workers who are most difficult to unionise: those whose workplaces are often hostile to unions, and whose wages are so low that paying union subs can be a real challenge for workers.

I was delighted to read this morning about the Employment Relations Authority victory of one Chantelle Coup, an ex-employee of McDonalds in Kaiapoi. At age 17, Chantelle decided she'd join the union. At that point, it seems she became the target of a campaign of workplace bullying which eventually forced her to quit her part-time job, and caused her to suffer a bout of depression. In the face of this, Chantelle took a grievance to the ERA, and was awarded $15,000. A somewhat hollow victory, though: she plans to use the money to pay back her student loan, which paid for a course she failed because of the stress of her work situation.

Big ups to Unite for supporting Chantelle through this. Even bigger ups to Chantelle herself. It takes incredible gumption to take a stand against this sort of bullying, particularly when you're just 17. The solidarity and support of a union is crucial, but ultimately it's the worker herself who has to go into a hostile workplace day after day, or face the terrible stress of an ongoing conflict which she'd rather walk away from. Situations like that dismantle your self-confidence bit by bit, especially when you're really young. I had a negative work experience at a similar age, and I didn't have the bravery to join my union, let alone stick with it in the face of ongoing mistreatment.

I feel inspired by your courage, Chantelle - take a bow!


Hugh said...

While I share your congratulations to Chantelle it makes me rather sad that she had to fight so hard just in order to break even.

jafapete said...

Hugh, Chantelle may only have "broken even" -- I'm not sure I'd go that far -- but it's a major victory for low-paid workers. The freedom to collectivise is both more importnat and more difficult to enact, for these workers. This case has made it just a little easier, particularly in those industries where "casualising" the workforce is used as a strategy of control.