Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association

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Full name Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association
Founded 14 May 1908
Members 209,000
Affiliation ACTU, UNI, ALP
Key people Joe de Bruyn, National President
Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary
Office location Melbourne, Victoria
Country Australia

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) is one of the largest trade unions in Australia with more than 209,000 members and branches in every state and one in the Newcastle, Hunter and Central Coast regions. The SDA is the union for retail and fast-food workers, but does have other areas of coverage. The SDA is a 'full service' union and provides a range additional benefits to members in addition to workplace and industrial protection.

The current National Secretary is Gerard Dwyer and the National President is Joe de Bruyn.

Brief history[edit]

In 1908, unions representing retail workers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia combined to become the Shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees Federation. Over time, 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.


The main categories of workers covered by the SDA are retail shop assistants and fast food workers but the SDA also covers:

  • Reserve and Backdock Employees
  • Pharmacy
  • General Distribution and Warehousing
  • Pharmaceutical Drug Manufacturing and Distribution
  • Cosmetic Manufacturing and Distribution
  • Van Sales
  • Photographic Industry
  • Modelling and Mannequin
  • Motor Vehicle Sales
  • Shoe and Boot Repairing
  • Hairdressing and Beauty

In addition to this, the SDA covers some other categories of workers when they are connected to a retail or warehousing environment. For example, the SDA does not have coverage of bakers at large factories or a small bakery. These workers include:

  • Bakers
  • Retail Meat Employees
  • Pastrycooks
  • Security
  • Cleaning
  • Vehicle Repair Services
  • Call Centre Workers

Industrial Approach[edit]

As a result of the SDA's coverage, the union claims it is moderate and responsible in its approach to Industrial Relations.

The SDA attempts to have a relatively positive relationship with retail employers, with the idea that it allows it to negotiate better outcomes for its members than a more confrontational approach because of the reluctance of SDA members to take industrial action.[citation needed] This reluctance is inherent to the categories of workers who are covered by the SDA - young people and women who are generally in casual employment.

The SDA claims to have a history of fighting for the rights of its members and, arguably other workers. Due to the large membership numbers, it claims to be the biggest contributor to the 'Your Rights At Work' campaign, which is credited with the overturning of John Howard's Work Choices laws.

The SDA also claims to take a strong position on the rights of women in workplace and since 1978 has advocated for the introduction of paid parental leave.

As outlined in the McDonald's Australia Enterprise Agreement, the SDA must be invited to attend all crew meetings and also the induction of new crew. For both of these, the SDA demands a 15-minute allocation of time for the SDA to address Mcdonald's crew.


The SDA was led for 36 years from 1978 to 2014 by National Secretary Joe de Bruyn. De Bruyn is also Senior Vice President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions ACTU, on the Executive of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and was President of global union federation UNI Global Union from 2010 to 2014.

De Bruyn, aged 65, did not stand for re-election in 2014 and former NSW Branch Secretary Gerard Dwyer was elected National Secretary by the SDA's National Council. De Bruyn remains the SDA's honorary National President.

Each Branch of the Union elects its own leadership.


Social positions[edit]

The SDA has taken morally conservative positions on social issues [1] especially concerning issues like abortion [2] and rights for same sex couples.[3][4]

The SDA made a submission in 2005 to the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) opposing the provision of in vitro fertilisation and other assisted reproductive technologies to same sex couples.[5]

While speaking on marriage during the 2007 ALP national conference the SDA's national secretary, Joe de Bruyn, and other members of the ALP Right, were heckled by delegates who supported gay marriages.[6]

The SDA has also been criticised as having a disproportionate influence over the Australian Labor Party, influencing party policy towards more socially conservative positions.[7] The SDA argues that it merely has the same amount of influence that any large union would have over the ALP, especially one which identified with the dominant faction within the party.[citation needed]

A comparative analysis of polling data of support for same-sex marriage and membership demographics of the SDA found that the socially conservative positions of the SDA leadership - particularly Joe de Bruyn - are likely to be at odds with the rank-and-file of the union.[8] The lobby group Australian Marriage Equality challenged the SDA to survey its membership before contributing further to the same-sex marriage debate in Australia.[9] To date, the SDA has never sought the views of its membership on the issue.

In response to the union's position on gay rights, SDA members in Brisbane met to organise a grassroots revolt at the quarterly members meeting and raise the issue of same-sex marriage.[10]

Turf wars[edit]

In 2003, the UNITE union was set up in Victoria in order to organise food and retail workers who were perceived as being neglected by the SDA. The union is not registered under the Fair Work Act 2009. Its secretary, Anthony Main, a Socialist Party member. In March 2006, UNITE declared:

Unfortunately the union that most young workers in Australia belong to, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, (SDA) does not have the same fighting spirit as UNITE. The SDA is a weak union that prefers to cosy up to the bosses instead of fighting for young peoples’ rights at work. Workers can’t leave it up to a bosses union like the SDA to protect them from the worst elements of the new laws. We need our own fighting organisation along the lines of UNITE in New Zealand.[11]

The move drew heavy criticism from the SDA. Michael Donovan, the secretary of the Victorian branch of the SDA told Lateline that "Now is not the time to be splitting the union movement. The SDA is the union to look after the interests of young people in the retail industry and fast-food industry and all we're doing is playing into the hands of John Howard and the Liberal Party."[12]


The SDA is affiliated to a number of organisations. These include:


The SDA has branches across Australia.

  • Victorian Branch.

Secretary- Michael Donovan

  • New South Wales Branch.

Secretary- Bernie Smith

  • Newcastle & Northern Branch.

Secretary- Barbara Nebart

  • Queensland Branch.

Secretary- Chris Gazenbeek

  • South Australian/Northern Territory and Broken Hill Branch-

Secretary- Peter Malinauskas

  • WA Branch.

Secretary- Peter O'Keeffe

  • Tasmanian Branch.

Secretary- Paul Griffin


External links[edit]