Australian Workers Are the Latest International Apple Staff to Unionise

Unionised Apple workers in Australia told VICE World News that they plan to protest poor pay by refusing to sell certain products or to work at all.
​An Apple store worker in Sydney during the launch of the iPhone 12.
An Apple store worker in Sydney, Australia, during the launch of the iPhone 12. Photo by James D. Morgan / Getty Images

A group of Apple retail workers in Australia could soon be able to refuse to sell certain products and, in extreme cases, even go on strike.

If all goes as planned for the workers, a growing portion of Apple’s retail workforce in Australia would be entitled to a smattering of new strike options by later this month. Some, like refusing to sell certain products or refer customers to Apple’s business programs, might seem more harmless, but have the potential to threaten a considerable chunk of Apple’s day-to-day Australian retail business. 


Others, like refusing to show up to work as the company heads into launch season, have the potential to wreak havoc. 

It comes after Apple workers unionised and secured a protected action order with the nation’s Fair Work Commission, which would allow them to protest without risking their jobs or getting sued. Unlike the United States, unionised workers in Australia are required to apply to strike or picket.

The order will first go to a vote and require at least half of the 100 workers balloted, who are members of Australia’s Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, to vote in favour of the protections before they’re granted.

One Apple retail staffer, who spoke to VICE World News on the condition of anonymity for fears of retribution, said workers have been left with no choice but to take action, after the company opened talks over a new enterprise bargaining agreement—or a collective pay deal for all staff employed by the company in Australia—without notifying workers of their chance to negotiate with management.

“I think that people realise that things weren’t happening in a normal fashion, when the first bargaining meeting happened without us knowing,” they said. “That was the inflection point for me.”

In late August, Apple was accused of trying to rush through a “subpar” new pay deal in “bad faith” for its 4,000 Australian retail staffers, who have been paid on an old “zombie” pay deal that expired in 2018. 


As a result, two other unions with members working on Apple’s shop floors took the matter to Australia’s Fair Work Commission. In a joint statement late last month, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and the Australian Services Union (ASU) alleged Apple had moved with “undue haste” to roll out a new bargaining agreement, and that its proposed demands were “unethical”. 

“Staff were only given a copy of the draft enterprise agreement on August 3,” said Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the SDA, late last month. 

“They had their first meeting about a week later. The SDA and the ASU were not invited to that meeting. We are trying to play catch up here with a company that's throwing its weight around with its workforce, operating with undue haste.”

The old deal has seen Apple’s Australian retail workers for years treated like casual workers without any of the benefits—like weekend penalty rates and loading pay—that come with it. Instead, workers are expected to have “wide availability” and are forced to succumb to an ever-changing roster while effectively earning “less than minimum wage”. 

The new deal wasn’t much of an improvement, unions say. It would have seen workers take a real wage pay cut, and allowed store management to roster workers up to 60 hours in a single week, without overtime. It once again thrust the company’s treatment of its workers into global focus.


In late June, Apple’s retail employees in Maryland, Baltimore, became the first of the company’s more than 270 stores across the United States to unionise, as part of a bid to have more of a say on wages and COVID-19 policies. According to union representatives in the U.S., dozens more stores hope to follow in their footsteps. 

But Apple isn’t alone in facing a full-throttled return of the labour movement in the U.S. The efforts of workers at the company’s Maryland store coincide with a wave of other recent union campaigns, led in large part by young workers, to organise workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Google and Activision.

The insurgence has inspired workers in Australia, too. 

Josh Cullinan, secretary of Australia’s Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, told VICE World News that the organised action seen from workers in the U.S., along with the arrival of a crippling cost of living crisis, has charged much of the action now happening in Australia.

Workers at Apple in Australia feel particularly inspired, he said, because they face many of the same union-busting tactics faced by workers in the U.S. 

“We have our protected action ballot underway, we provide the bargaining representative appointments of our members to [Apple] management, so they know where these groups of workers are, and then [suddenly] the employee and labour relations team is showing up [in these locations],” Cullinan said. 


“They come in under the guise of ‘someone’s complained’, or ‘someone’s raised an issue’, which is complete garbage,” he said. “And then they just grill every worker, ‘How did you come to join the union? Who asked you to join the union?’—all on the shop floor.”

Apple’s union-busting tactics are well-documented, and their arrival in Australia has captured the close attention of corporate and union leaders alike. 

Earlier this year, Motherboard obtained a memo detailing a series of anti-union talking points which was circulated for store leaders to use with employees in the U.S. Just weeks later, audio capturing Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s vice president of retail and people, trying to discourage workers from unionising was leaked as well.

“We have a relationship that's based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement, which I feel could fundamentally change if a store is represented by a union under a collective bargaining agreement,” O’Brien was heard saying in the leak.

Workers in Australia have reported similar moves. Across the country, Apple’s retail workers say union fliers are being shredded and cleared from break rooms, and even the word “union” has come to be treated by Apple management as an epithet. 


An Apple retail worker told VICE World News that in their Queensland store, managers have begun describing unions as “coercive”, and moved to stifle all conversation about collective bargaining. They spoke on the condition of anonymity for fears of retribution, but said the company’s union-busting tactics have recently started to seep into his store’s morning meetings, otherwise known as “daily downloads”, as well.

“Essentially, what they tried to do yesterday was scrap the issued store guidance, and instead run this script from higher up, where they’re talking about all of the benefits that are outside of the agreement, and why we shouldn’t be worried that Apple’s not promising anything in there,” they said. 

“So it’s a distraction of what’s going on, like, ‘You shouldn’t be asking for more, because look over there!’”

Apple’s retail workers in Australia continue to bargain for a new pay deal. The most recent bargaining meeting was held on Thursday. 

A spokesperson at Apple couldn’t be drawn on whether the union-busting tactics seen in Australia are the result of a top-down management directive, but told VICE World News that it would continue to bargain with its retail workforce.

“We are proud to have an incredible team of nearly 4,000 people in Australia and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple, and to our customers,” the spokesman said.

“We announced our intention to form a new Enterprise Agreement in early August, and we welcome the opportunity for participation and engagement with our team members. Throughout this process Apple has not set any deadlines and we will continue to hold regular meetings to share and encourage feedback.”

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