Our History


The SDA in Victoria had its origins in the amalgamation of two retail unions.

The Victorian Grocers Employees Association started in 1900.

The Shop Assistants Union of Victoria started in 1907.

In 1908 the Shop Assistants Union of Victoria federated with the NSW, Queensland and South Australian Shop Assistants Unions to form a national union - The Shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees’ Federation of Australia.  It was registered as a union under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. 

In 1911 the Australian Hairdressers, Wigmakers and Hairworkers Employees Federation of Australia was formed.

In Victoria there were differences between the Victorian Grocers Employees Association and the Shop Assistants Union of Victoria which kept them apart.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (the top trade union body in Victoria) worked to try to bring them together and after many years they amalgamated in 1919.  The amalgamated union probably had about 1900 members and was based in a one room office at the Victorian Trades Hall Council (like many unions at that time).

The union faced many challenges from there to today including the effects of World War I, the Great Depression in the 1930s and the effects of World War II.

In 1940 the union bought its first car for organising in country and outer metropolitan areas.

It was during the war years in the 1940s that the retail industry changed from being a substantially male occupation to having large numbers of women in the retail industry – a trend which continued after the war.

By 1951 the union had 6,306 financial members.

By 1960 the union had 8,051 members (5,797 metropolitan and 2,254 country).

Chadstone was the first suburban shopping centre and it opened in 1960.

In 1960 the Mannequins and Models Guild was formed.

In 1971, in an agreement negotiated by the Australian Council of Trade Union and the Victorian Trades Hall the major retail companies agreed to sign their employees into the SDA.  Membership grew significantly reaching 60,000 in 1996.

In 1972 the union changed its name to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.

In 1978, the union moved into its own premises at 53 Queen Street, Melbourne in a building jointly owned with the Federated Clerks Union.

In 1991 the union amalgamated with the Australian Hairdressers, Wigmakers and Hairworkers Employees Federation of Australia and the Mannequins and Models Guild of Australia.

In 1993 the union took full ownership of 53 Queen Street, Melbourne

Today the SDA has over 50,000 members in Victoria although the employers no longer sign up employees to the union.

Since 2003 the SDA has been based in its own building at 65 Southbank Boulevard Southbank.

The SDA has 20 Organisers out visiting members across Victoria, 4 Industrial Officers dealing with awards, enterprise agreements and member industrial issues and 5 Information Officers to deal with 15,000-20,000 queries to the office every year.

Key Industrial Highlights




44 hour working week (reduced from 46 hours)


40 hour working week


Two weeks annual leave


Adult rate of pay at 21 years of age instead of 23 years


Two days compassionate leave for death of wife, husband, father, mother, child, stepchild


Three weeks annual leave


Late night shopping introduced

5 day working week (reduced from 5 ½ day working week)


Four weeks annual leave


Equal pay for women (previously women were paid less than men)

Public holiday penalty increased from double time to double time and a half


12 months unpaid maternity leave (previously a woman having a baby needed to resign)


38 hour week


Adoption leave

Occupational Health and Safety Act provided for elected Health and Safety Representatives


Redundancy pay for employees made redundant


Compulsory employer payment of 3% superannuation for employees paid into industry fund REST with joint union-employer directors.


Government legislated universal superannuation paid by employer. Scaled up to 9% of wages by 2000-2001


Move to enterprise agreements


Australian Workplace Agreements abolished

Legislation for additional public holiday on following Monday (or Tuesday, as appropriate) when Boxing Day or New Year Day fall on a Saturday or a Sunday


Fair Work Act commences

18 weeks paid maternity leave


Modern awards commence 1 January 2010


Adult rate of pay for 20 year old employees under General Retail Industry Award

Easter Sunday appointed as a public holiday

2018 Higher penalty rates on weeknights and Saturdays for casual employees.


SDA published a book covering the history of the SDA Victorian Branch from 1908-2008. The book can be purchased from the online shop
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