Authors stand with Readings booksellers for a living wage

Booksellers at Readings who are members of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) have been negotiating with management for a living wage, for wage transparency, for a workplace free from harassment, and to be paid for all the work tasks they do. It has taken four years of effort from union members at Readings bookstores to bring management to the bargaining table with workers.

In May of 2021, the Fair Work Commission made a determination that the majority of workers employed by Readings favoured an Enterprise Bargain Agreement (EBA) – a majority that Readings’ management had previously refused to recognise. Since that hard-won determination, union members have spent months negotiating with Reading’s management and owner, Mark Rubbo, for an in-principle agreement to an EBA, to no avail.

Now, the management of Readings has rushed out an EBA with a smaller wage increase that does not meet the current rise in inflation, in order to avoid industrial action by its workers.

Image by Ben Juers

Readings staff are campaigning to VOTE NO to a non-union EBA that will leave them worse off.

At this critical time, we as authors stand in solidarity with the workers of Readings who are fighting for things that all workers should have: fair wages and fair conditions. Readings is a local literary institution, celebrated for its support of Australian literature over many years. The business has eight branches, including its flagship store on Lygon Street in Carlton, but Readings’ booksellers have done the work of building both Readings’ reputation and its profits without fair wages for their labour.

A store that stakes its community reputation and brand recognition on its support of Australian literature has no business undercutting its workers’ demands for a living wage. Workers should be paid for all their tasks, including writing book reviews, that build and sustain that reputation.

In 2021, Australian authors came together in solidarity with RAFFWU members at Sydney bookstore Better Read Than Dead, who were similarly fighting for improvements in their workplace. In an open letter of support, authors wrote:

As authors, we entrust our work – which is our words – into the hands of booksellers. Without booksellers, all of us are deprived of the community that literature builds. Our whole literary ecosystem relies on them.

Industrial action by BRTD workers, among the first such action in the Australian retail sector in half a century, was successful, in part because authors and readers stood with booksellers in their struggle. The same holds true today: the literary community relies upon the work of booksellers, and we as authors must continue to stand in solidarity with workers across the publishing industry.

As authors, many of us understand only too well the experience of workplace precarity. The publishing industry runs on underpaid and unpaid labour, on the kind of “goodwill” that is really exploitation, and which has resulted in endemic mental illness in the industry. As authors, many of us are or have been booksellers; the conditions of bookstore staff are our conditions, too.

Our books do not sell without the booksellers who sell them, without the warehouse and distribution staff who get our books into stores, and especially not without the expertise and passion for literature that bookstore workers bring to their jobs, putting our books into readers’ hands. But passion for literature is not its own reward; work is work and workers must be fairly paid for it. As authors we support the campaign by RAFFWU members at Readings for the following:

– A living wage $26/hour for Level 1 retail workers, and $28/hour for Level 3 retail workers;

– Annual wage increases that keep track with rising inflation;

– Wage transparency from Readings’ management, who for years have maintained a confusing and inconsistent wage structure system that sees some workers paid award rates, and some above those rates, for the same work;

– An EBA agreed to by workers through their union.

Readings can afford to pay a living wage to its workers. This is a multi-store business that, until 2021, posted profits for 25 consecutive years, and which in the past year has spent considerable amounts of money opening both a new store branch and a warehouse, without consulting workers.

As authors, we stand in solidarity with the booksellers at Readings in their fight for fair pay and conditions.

Image by Judy Kuo


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