Working in community

Brenna Dempsey 18 May 2021

One of our young writers shares her experiences of unions.

One of our young writers shares her experiences of unions.

My parents met at a union meeting, so I have grown up being involved with unions. It was just expected that I would join the relevant union when I got my first job. But I know that I am fairly unusual in my experience.

So, let me tell you a little bit about unions and my experiences, starting with a meme I saw on Facebook recently: ‘if your boss is working hard to convince you not to be in a union, you really need to be in a union.’

Essentially a union is a membership organisation that exists outside of your workplace but is there to support you if you have issues at work (for example, if you are not being paid correctly) and to fight for better rights in your workplace.

My first job during high school was in retail at JB Hi-Fi. I joined the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) and was one of only a handful of members. I was undeterred by this and grew confident in raising my concerns with colleagues and encouraging them to join the union. I went along to union meetings and met other retail and fast food workers. I made friends and I got involved with the running of the union itself by becoming a committee member in 2018, and then the national vice-president in 2019.

I think the best bit about attending union meetings and being involved with the union was the opportunity it provided to chat to other retail workers, to hear their experiences both with terrible jobs and terrible managers and with the change they created, the campaigns they led and the way it influenced not only their experiences at work but their whole identity.

Having a job can be overwhelming at first, it is not something they prepare you for at school and it can be really intimidating as a young person to stand up for yourself and to know your rights.

Being a member of a union gives you a sense of confidence in yourself, it can educate you on your rights and the best ways to ensure they are upheld and it changes an often isolating experience into a more positive and community-led experience.

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