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The “Just In Time System” for Aspiring Parliamentarians

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Ned K.

Earlier this year in SA in the long serving state Labor Government, Premier Weatherill announced that former Shop Distributive and Allied Trades Association (the SDA) secretary, Peter Malinauskas (left) was joining the ALP parliamentary team and becoming a Cabinet Minister. Malinauskas hails from the right faction Labor ‘stable’ overseen by former federal Labor Senator Don Farrell.

Historical links of this faction go back to the days of the DLP and Bob Santamaria. Both Farrell and Malinauskas served as secretaries of the shop assistants union, SDA, for many years. Malinauskas is being groomed as the next Labor leader in SA, mainly due to his connections with big business in the retail industry. Premier Jay Weatherill is from the ALP “Left” faction but the “Right” faction of the ALP in SA has the numbers,  so no surprises that such a rapid rise within parliament has been afforded Malinauskas.

Both Weatherill from the Left ALP faction and Malinauskas from the Right faction owe their rise to the dizzy levels of parliamentary Ministerial Office to low paid blue collar workers paying  dues as union members. In Weatherill’s case, the old Miscellaneous Workers Union now known as United Voice and in Malinauskas’s case the SDA. In the latter’s case, the numerical strength of the SDA for decades has depended on the SDA leaders delivering concessions to large retail companies like Coles and Woolworths in exchange for these retailers signing up new workers to the SDA or facilitating such membership. In exchange the SDA has engaged in concession bargaining, trading away working conditions in exchange for base wage rates only slightly above the minimum award wage.

Just In Time System

On occasions there has been resistance from retail workers to the sell out behaviour of the SDA leaders but usually not in an organised way and without much success. However in July last year, a Coles retail worker in Queensland, Duncan Hart, challenged in the  Fair Work Commission a new national Enterprise Agreement struck between Coles and the SDA. Under the new Agreement, Hart claims that he and thousands of other retail workers are paid about $60 a week less than if employed under the retail award. Hart’s legal team estimated in a hearing before Fair Work Commission in February this year that the underpayment for all similarly rostered Coles workers is about $70 million in total per year. At the hearing the SDA admitted that it was aware of the below award pay outcome for many Coles workers at the time it signed the Agreement and supported its approval by Fair Work Commission. Fair Work Commission is yet to hand down its Decision on the matter.

What has this to do with Peter Malinauskas’s rapid rise to Ministerial status in the state Labor government in SA? Perhaps it is a case of the “just in time system”, meaning that he has been moved upwards in the chain of service  to the big capitalists.

Is this a better option for the bosses than leaving him as leader of the SDA at a time when its credibility as a fighter for the cause of retail workers is on the verge of being exposed publicly even by the conservative Fair Work Commission? 


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