Shop assistants

The Shop Assistants

During the Depression of the 1890s people were forced to work longer hours for less pay.  Shop workers, in particular, had little protection. Shops could stay open until 7pm on week days and until 10pm on Saturdays, and although, after 1901, State government laws restricted trading hours, retailers were prepared to ignore them. Several groups were formed to represent retail industry workers’ interests until, on 14 May 1908, the Shop Assistants' and Warehouse Employees' Federation was finally registered as a trade union.


Trading hours remained the major issue for the Shop Assistants’ and Warehouse Employees’ Federation in the early years. Most retail industry employees were working a 6 day/60 hour week. There was no sick pay, no unemployment benefits if you were sacked, no unfair dismissal laws, no superannuation or pension scheme, no annual leave requirements, no maternity leave, no equal pay for women and no leave loadings, tea breaks, penalty rates or overtime.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA), as the union became known after 1972, has won many improvements for retail workers. It was one of the first unions to demand compulsory superannuation in an Agreement and was the first union to appoint a Women’s Officer to work towards equal opportunity in the workplace. Today, the SDA continues to assist members with workplace issues - negotiating for better conditions and ensuring that their rights are upheld.

Find more information about the Union and its records at http://archivescollection.anu.edu.au/index.php/shop-assistants-and-warehouse-employees-federation-of-australia