Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association

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Full name Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association
Founded 14 May 1908
Members 230,000
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 230,000 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 SDA is commonly described as a conservative, Catholic-controlled union.

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 SDA left the Victorian Trades Hall Council in the early 1990s, complaining about its pro-land rights (Mabo) position and political direction at that time. In April 2017, the union applied to rejoin the VTHC.[1]

The SDA is one of the last surviving Catholic-controlled "grouper" unions, as they were known in the 1940s and 50s, named after the industrial groups organised to counter communists in the unions and which had a key role in the Labor split of the 1950s.[2] The union re-affiliated with the Australian Labor Party in the 1980s and is a member of the Labor Right faction of the party. The union is known for its opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.[1] Gerard Dwyer is an elected member of the Australian Labor Party National Executive.

Labor figures estimate that there are 10-12 federal members of Parliament with some level of SDA link, including House of Representatives members Tony Burke, Nick Champion, Michael Danby, Kate Ellis, David Feeney and Amanda Rishworth and senators Catryna Bilyk, Jacinta Collins, Don Farrell, Chris Ketter, Deborah O'Neill and Helen Polley.[2]


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.[2]

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, which rarely if ever occurs in the SDA. 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 overturning John Howard's WorkChoices 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 staff.

Other unions claim the SDA undercut wages and conditions in agreements, and allow penalty rates to be cut in exchange for higher wages. Paul Conway, secretary of left-wing Victorian meatworkers union, claims "The SDA is a tame cat union. Its primary interest is not its members but numbers in the Trade Union Council and Labor" and "getting its people into Parliament". Joe de Bruyn defends the SDA's industrial record, claiming a tenfold increase in the award rate for shop assistants and, pay increases above inflation, since the mid-1970s. The Sydney Morning-Herald reports that the SDA pays as much as $5 million a year in commissions to big employers, including Coles and Woolworths, in return for payroll deduction of union dues.[2]


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

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 SDA elects its own leadership.


Social positions[edit]

The SDA has taken socially conservative positions[3] especially concerning issues like abortion,[4] IVF, and same-sex marriage in Australia.[5][6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

The SDA has also been criticised as having a disproportionate influence over the Australian Labor Party, influencing party policy towards more socially conservative positions.[9] The SDA argues that it merely has the same amount of influence that any large union would have over Labor, especially one which identified with the dominant faction within the party.[2]

A comparative analysis of polling data of support for same-sex marriage in Australia and membership demographics of the SDA found that the socially conservative positions of the SDA leadership - particularly de Bruyn - are likely to be at odds with the rank-and-file of the union.[10] The lobby group Australian Marriage Equality challenged the SDA to survey its membership before contributing further to the same-sex marriage debate in Australia.[11] 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. He says he "knows they agree with him absolutely. When we talk to our members about out these things they agree with us".[2] Some SDA-aligned Labor MPs do not agree with the SDA's stance on same-sex marriage and in fact support same-sex marriage in defiance of the SDA, some South Australian examples being Kate Ellis, Amanda Rishworth and Nick Champion.[2][12]

The SDA abandoned its opposition to same sex marriage in August 2016 and adopted a neutral position. 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.[13]

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 and its secretary, Anthony Main, is a member of the Socialist Party (Australia), the Australian section of the Committee for a Workers' International.[14] 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.[15]

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."[16]


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- Sonia Romeo

  • WA Branch.

Secretary- Peter O'Keeffe

  • Tasmanian Branch.

Secretary- Paul Griffin

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Age, 16 April 2017, Shoppies bid: Wage scandal union wants to 'come in from the cold'
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Why is the union that represents supermarket workers stopping gay marriage?: SMH 2 May 2015
  3. ^ Clone bill emotions intensify - National -
  4. ^ Christopher Pearson: Play for God and country | The Australian
  5. ^ Labor backs legal rights for same-sex couples - National -
  6. ^ Christian Today > ALP National Conference Amendment On Legal Recognition To Homosexuals Undermine Marriage
  7. ^$file/ART%20&%20Adoption%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
  8. ^ [ Labor backs legal rights for same-sex couples �tagByline1� Labor backs legal]
  9. ^ A party in search of purpose
  10. ^ Shoppies union boss out of touch with rank-and-file
  11. ^ Union boss challenged to survey his members on same-sex marriages / Gay fmr SDA union official speaks out
  12. ^ SA, Where your MP stands on Marriage Equality: Australian Marriage Equality
  13. ^
  14. ^ About the Socialist Party
  15. ^ Bosses declare war on young workers - UNITE union, March 2006
  16. ^ New Union group vows to protect fast food workers, Lateline, ABC, 29 May 2006.

External links[edit]