About the SDA

HISTORY OF RETAIL UNIONISM

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The idea of unionism was brought to Australia by the early British immigrant workers.

The first unions in Australia were formed in the 1840s. These were craft unions; i.e. they were unions based on a particular trade or craft (e.g. carpentry, engineering, stone-masonry etc.).

Early trade unionists saw the main purpose of establishing unions to protect the employment conditions and general standing of workers in the particular crafts.

Unions also acted as friendly societies to enable employees to help each other in times of hardship such as when unemployment or sickness struck (in those days there was no dole and no sickness pay). Early unionists campaigned strongly to have working hours reduced.

From these early beginnings came the demand – not granted universally until very recently, for an 8 hour day and a 40 hour week for all workers.

In the 1880s and 1890s unionisation of general non-craft workers first took place. During this period the first general workers unions were formed.

These unions grouped workers in the unskilled or semi-skilled areas such as miners and shearers. Whereas the early craft unions had been formed on colonial or state structures, the general unions quickly developed inter-colonial or national structures, and thus we had the growth of the first national unions.

During the 1890s and the early 1900s unionism grew rapidly. It was during this period that the predecessors of the SDA first came into existence.

In 1904 the Australian Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was established.

In 1907 Sir Justice Higgins, President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration established the first minimum wage in what was called the Harvester Judgement.

In 1908, unions representing retail workers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia joined together to become the Shop Assistants, and Warehouse Employees Federation.  Over time, State unions in Tasmania, Newcastle and Western Australia became part of the national union.  In 1972 the union changed its name to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.