Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association

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Sda logo0 400x400.jpg
Full name Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association
Founded 14 May 1908
Members 213,127 [1]
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 the largest private sector trade union in Australia with more than 200,000 members. It has branches in every state and territory representing retail, fast-food and warehousing workers.

Its membership is predominantly in casual and insecure employment within the retail and fast food sectors. The union also represents a significant membership of workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.[2]

The culture of the union represents a organisation historically adverse to what it perceives as "militancy" by traditional unions.

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

Brief history[edit]

During the 1890s and the early 1900s, the predecessors of the SDA first came into existence in most states, particularly through 'Early Closing Associations' focussed on restricting shop trading hours.[3]

In 1908, unions representing retail and wharehousing workers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia combined to become the Shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees Federation of Australia. It was registered as a union under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

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.

In the 1940s and 50s, the union was involved with "grouper" unions, named after the industrial groups organised to counter communists in the unions. These unions had a key role in the Labor split of the 1950s.[4] The SDA re-affiliated with the Australian Labor Party in the 1980s and is a member of the Labor Right faction of the party.

During the war years of the 1940s the retail industry changed from being a substantially male occupation to having large numbers of women. The SDA was instrumental in achieving equal pay for women in 1975[5] and women currently comprise more than 65% of the SDA's membership.[6]

The union was heavily involved in achieving the 44 hour working week in 1945 and then the 38 hour week in 1984. Other achievements include winning redundancy pay in 1986, four weeks annual leave in 1974 and 12 months maternity leave in 1979.[5]

In 1987, the SDA helped facilitate compulsory employer payments of 3% superannuation for employees paid into industry fund REST Super with joint union-employer directors.[5]

In 1991, the Australian Hairdressers, Wigmakers and Hairworkers Employees' Federation and the Mannequins' & Models' Guild of Australia merged with the SDA.[7]

The SDA has a history of campaigning across the broader union movement. It was the biggest financial contributor to unions in the 1998 Waterfront Dispute and the 'Your Rights At Work' campaign, which is credited with overturning John Howard's WorkChoices laws.[8]

At its 100 year anniversary, former Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke stated that the SDA is as "close as you can get to a ten out of ten union".[9]


The main categories of workers covered by the SDA are retail, fast food and warehousing workers [10] but the SDA also covers reserve and backdock employees, pharmacies, footwear repairing, modelling, and hairdressing/beauty.

The SDA has overlapping with other trade unions and their areas of coverage, such as the AMIEU in the case of retail meat employees, the NUW's coverage of warehousing and United Voice's coverage of bakers employees.


The SDA was led for 36 years from 1978 to 2014 by National Secretary de Bruyn. 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.


Youth Wages[edit]

Australia operates a system of youth wages where it is legal for workers under the age of 21 to be paid a percentage of the adult wage rate for their job.[11] The SDA has campaigned and called for the abolition of junior wages for decades. [12]

In 2013 the SDA began an national campaign to end youth wages for workers aged 18 years of age and the retail industry.[13] This commenced with a case at the Fair Work Commission to remove the ninety percent rate for 20 year olds in the retail award. The Fair Work Commission ruled in favour of the SDA's application in 2014 and the 20 year old rate began to be phased out in the retail award from 2015.[14] The Australian Retailers Association apposed the move.[15]

Customer Violence and Abuse[edit]

In 2017 the SDA launched a national public awareness campaign to combat what the union described as the growing problem of violence and abuse directed at retail workers by customers. A survey conducted by the union of 6,000 retail and fast food workers found that more than 85 per cent had experienced abuse from customers.[16] Almost three quarters (74 percent) of respondents were women, and 65 percent of respondents worked in front end services (like cashiers and registers) and just over half (51 percent) of respondents said that no action was taken after they reported an incident.[17]


The SDA has branches across Australia.

Victorian Branch.

  • Secretary- Michael Donovan

New South Wales & ACT Branch.

  • Secretary- Bernie Smith

Newcastle & Northern Branch.

  • Secretary- Barbara Nebart

Queensland Branch.

  • Secretary- Chris Gazenbeek

South Australian/Northern Territory and Broken Hill Branch-

  • Secretary- Sonia Romeo

WA Branch.

  • Secretary- Peter O'Keeffe

Tasmanian Branch.

  • Secretary- Paul Griffin


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

The SDA has maintained strong political involvement through its affiliation to Australian Labor Party. Gerard Dwyer is an elected member of the Australian Labor Party National Executive.

Present federal members of Australia’s parliamentary Labor Party affiliated with the SDA include House of Representatives members Tony Burke, Nick Champion, Michael Danby, and Amanda Rishworth and senators Catryna Bilyk, Jacinta Collins, Don Farrell, Chris Ketter, Deborah O'Neill and Helen Polley.[4]

Joe de Bruyn was previously Senior Vice President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions ACTU, on the Australian Labor Party Executive and was President of global union federation UNI Global Union from 2010 to 2014.


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 has come under criticism for its workplace agreements with major employers including Coles [18], Woolworths [19] and McDonald's [20] that have bargained for industry-wide conditions with a result of beneath-award pay outcomes for members[21], as well as the use of membership funds in its opposition to key social reforms such as abortion[22], IVF[23], same-sex marriage[24] and the payments of commission fees to employers in order to facilitate recruitment.[25]

However, its close relationship with employers has provoked controversy. In 2016, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission found an SDA-negotiated workplace arrangement with supermarket chain Coles left significant numbers of Coles’ 77,000 workers underpaid[26]. One witness claimed Coles was aware that more than half of the workers covered by the agreement were paid less than the minimum pay rates of the award[27]. The SDA had almost identical agreements with other big employers.

Other unions have argued SDA industry bargaining undercuts wages and conditions. In the past, the SDA has negotiated to cut penalty rates in exchange for higher hourly wages. Paul Conway, secretary of the Victorian branch of the AMIEU, has described the SDA’s tactics as that of "a tame cat”. National President Joe de Bruyn has defended the SDA's industrial record, claiming a "tenfold increase in the award rate for shop assistants and, pay increases above inflation, since the mid-1970"s.

Under an agreement struck between the ACTU and employers in 1971, the SDA paid commissions to employers, including Coles and Woolworths, as an administration charge for payroll deduction of union dues. The union defended that arrangements citing the importance of payroll deductions for members who work fluctuating hours.[28]

Social positions[edit]

Historically, the SDA has taken socially conservative positions[29] especially concerning issues like abortion,[30] IVF, and same-sex marriage in Australia.[31][32][33]

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.[34]

While speaking on marriage during the 2007 Labor national conference the SDA's national secretary, Joe de Bruyn, and other members of the Labor Right, were heckled by delegates who supported same-sex marriage.[35]

In the past, the SDA was also criticised for a disproportionate influence over the Australian Labor Party, influencing party policy towards more socially conservative positions.[36] The SDA argued any large union would have similar influence over Labor, given its level of representation within Labor’s union membership.[4]

By 2010, polling data revealed that the socially conservative public positions of the then SDA leadership were at odds with changing attitudes within the rank-and-file of the union.[37] That year, the lobby group Australian Marriage Equality challenged the SDA to survey its membership before contributing further to the same-sex marriage debate in Australia.[38] In response to a 2014 poll with 72 percent support for same-sex marriage, de Bruyn dismissed the figures but refused to poll his members on the issue, insisting he "When we talk to our members about out these things they agree with us".[4]. SDA-aligned Labor MPs did not agree with De Bruyn, and expresses public support for same-sex marriage in defiance of the SDA, some South Australian examples being Kate Ellis, Amanda Rishworth and Nick Champion.[4][39].

Gerard Dwyer replaced de Bruyn as National Secretary in 2014. In 2015, the SDA formally abandoned its outspoken opposition to same sex marriage and instead declared neutrality on the issue. The National Executive of the SDA formally adopted a policy of supporting the right of members of the ALP to act according to their conscience on the matter,.[40]

Turf wars[edit]

In 2016, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union was formed to challenge the SDA's perceived supine attitude towards industrial representation across the retail and fast food sector. RAFFWU describes itself as a "fighting union" and claims that the SDA's primary motivation is "to maintain, or increase its membership"[41] rather than the improvement of workplace conditions for its members. The SDA has received criticism in the Fairfax press that some enterprise agreements that it has been involved with negotiating contain inferior conditions, most notably a higher base rate than the relevant post 2010 Modern Award to offset the lack (or reduction) of additional loadings paid during evenings, nights and over weekends where the relevant Award would otherwise mandate such additional penalty rates.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d e Why is the union that represents supermarket workers stopping gay marriage?: SMH 2 May 2015
  5. ^ a b c [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ [5]
  9. ^ [6]
  10. ^ [7]
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
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  21. ^
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  23. ^
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  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Clone bill emotions intensify - National -
  30. ^ Christopher Pearson: Play for God and country | The Australian
  31. ^
  32. ^ Labor backs legal rights for same-sex couples - National -
  33. ^ Christian Today > ALP National Conference Amendment On Legal Recognition To Homosexuals Undermine Marriage
  34. ^$file/ART%20&%20Adoption%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
  35. ^ [ Labor backs legal rights for same-sex couples �tagByline1� Labor backs legal]
  36. ^ A party in search of purpose
  37. ^ Shoppies union boss out of touch with rank-and-file
  38. ^ Union boss challenged to survey his members on same-sex marriages / Gay fmr SDA union official speaks out
  39. ^ SA, Where your MP stands on Marriage Equality: Australian Marriage Equality
  40. ^
  41. ^ "SDA Facts". RAFFWU. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  42. ^ Schneiders, Ben; Toscano, Nick; Millar, Royce (30 August 2016). "Sold out: quarter of a million workers underpaid in union deals". The Age. Retrieved 1 February 2018.

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