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Issue #1556      18 July 2012

Indefinite strike action at Coles warehouse

In Queensland and Western Australia, Coles’ shoppers have been signing petitions in outrage at the inequality that warehouse workers in Somerton, Victoria have faced for the past six years.

“Why,” one shopper asked, “do Coles think it’s okay to outsource their labour if it means their workers don’t get the same conditions of other workers at Coles warehouses?”

People in the community agreed that shift loadings for working unsocial hours and RDOs for workers to spend time with their families were important rights that workers should be able to collectively bargain for. Members stood in the cold and the rain last week after indefinite strike action began.

Workers at the Coles warehouse in Somerton, in Melbourne’s north, have made it very clear to the labour provider Toll Holdings what the issues are that have led to industrial action. Strike action will continue after a meeting with Toll management failed to make any headway with negotiations.

National Union of Workers (NUW) delegates and state secretary Tim Kennedy met with senior representatives of Toll to press their case for equal rights and pay for the workers.

Mr Kennedy said Toll, who manages and employs the workers at the Somerton warehouse on behalf of Coles, had outlined the same proposal already rejected by workers.

“Our members believe that if a Coles shift worker in a Coles warehouse gets paid a shift loading for working an afternoon shift or a night shift, then Toll shift workers doing exactly the same work in a Coles warehouse supplying Coles Supermarkets should also be paid a shift loading for performing shiftwork,” Mr Kennedy said.

“Toll however told us today that their commercial relationship with Coles prevents them from offering an employment loading which includes shift loading.

“We know for a fact Coles provide shift loading at other sites so we remain baffled as to why Coles won’t treat their Somerton workers the same,” he said.

Mr Kennedy said the union once again outlined the five key issues that need fixing in order for workers to return to work:

  • Time for workers to have with their family: the creation of a roster for day shift workers that allows them to take a rostered day off and voluntary public holiday system – so that workers can choose rather than be forced to work public holidays.
  • Shift loading to be paid for the entirety of a shift to a worker who does afternoon or night shift – not a couple of hours per shift as proposed by the company.
  • The automatic option for direct and indirect casuals to become permanent employees after 6 months.
  • Inclusion of basic union rights in the Agreement – such as right of entry.
  • A decent wage increase to catch up to other Coles warehouses.

“We left the meeting with an agreement to meet again and we will go into that meeting in good faith in the hope that Toll will put a new proposal on the table that goes someway to addressing the issues,” Mr Kennedy said.

Mr Kennedy thanked the workers on the picket line since and warned it could be a long battle.

“These workers all have bills to pay, some have families and mortgage payments to meet and they would like nothing more than to go back to work. But they won’t be doing that until Coles start treating them with respect and offer them equal pay and equal rights as other Coles workers,” Mr Kennedy said.  

Next article – MUA stands with traditional owners

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