After a quick survey of my uni mates, unions get a bad rap. They’re either thugs and business busters or unwilling to smash the state and bring on the revolution. All of them agreed that today’s unions weren’t relevant to students.
Look, I totally get why you might think that. With a Murdoch press gunning for them on the right and young radicals shit-canning individual ones on the far left, why bother?
Well, unions matter and they matter to students. They matter because if there is anyone who is going to get screwed over by an unscrupulous boss it’s a student. We work casual jobs, are probably in retail or hospitality, and don’t have the skills to demand a hefty pay packet. Hell, I’ve even been there justifying to myself getting paid in cash, not getting overtime or giving up my penalty rates because my boss is awesome. Fair enough, but in the end it almost never adds up. We even get a raw deal under the law with youth wages, meaning an 18 year old gets paid 30% less than a 21 year old for the same work. Fortunately, the retail union the SDA is campaigning for 100% pay at 18.
A couple of months ago a bartender mate of mine had a pay slip that just didn’t add up week after week. Luckily, she was a member of her union United Voice. They checked it out and it turns out not only had her boss been underpaying her but half the staff there for months. United Voice took the company to court and they paid out the tens of thousands of dollars in back-pay they had been cheating her and the dozens of other employees.
Look, that’s just one story but stuff like that happens all the time and it’s almost always students getting screwed over. Unions are all we’ve got as young workers and as someone who has interned for one I can promise you their people care. We all think it won’t happen to us but when it does, only your union is going to have your back.