Coles' warehouse workers win equality and respect
When 550 workers decided to take on two big global companies and demand rights and conditions that had never been in their Agreement before, it was always going to be a big fight.
After many years of attacks on workers’ rights, especially through the dark days of WorkChoices, many of us in unions today are fighting just to hold onto the rights we have already won as a movement in past struggles.
But workers at the Coles warehouse in Somerton said; we want to fight for things that we have never had before – since Coles decided to outsource its workforce to Toll Holdings. They made this decision together, but when they stood firm and went on strike, the community was behind them. It was a chance for working people from all industries to say, workers must have equal rights for equal work. It was a chance to say we will not let a huge multinational company outsource its responsibility to it workers.
Coles warehouse workers have proved that if union members stick together and fight hard on the basis of union values, we can not only defend our rights; we can move forward. We can win these fights.
On the fourteenth day of a hard strike – after two weeks of the company taking officials and members of the NUW to different courts around the country, intimidating workers and their families, and repeatedly saying they would never give the conditions that workers were seeking – finally negotiations were successful in coming to an agreed position for workers to vote on.
This resolution could not have happened without the industrial strength of the workers or without the amazing support from community supporters and the Union Movement as a whole. It was this industrial strength that delegates needed every time they sat down with the company.
This dispute was about fighting to attain long held warehousing industry-based conditions from a contractor employer. Members met in Somerton yesterday to vote on their new EBA:
- Nine RDOs for day shift and five for afternoon and night shifts and shift allowances for afternoon and night shifts
- Site rates of pay for casual workers and conversion to permanent work for casual workers after nine months
- Fair and voluntary system for working public holidays and the ability to take a day in lieu
- Union rights including right of entry, delegate training days and on site meetings
- Wage increase to cover cost of living pressures: 3.5%, 3.25%, 3.5%
And the vote was resoundingly YES
Importantly, this new Agreement puts in writing rights and conditions that workers have not had before since the warehouse was built and became operational six years ago. But what delegates and members also know is that this is just the beginning. These rights will have to be continually fought for, they will have to be upheld, and this will have to be done by members organising collectively in their shed every day.
This is the starting point from which to continue building, so that workers can have equal rights and conditions across the industry; so that workers are not treated as a number, but with dignity and respect; so that workers can be financially secure and plan for their future; so that Coles – or any other company – cannot outsource their responsibility to workers that are the back bone of any company, even if they want to outsource the management.
Every NUW branch, workplace and member commends the members at the Coles warehouse in Somerton for taking this fight on and winning. It is a fight they took on for all of us. And from all the members at Coles DC and all officials of the NUW, our thanks goes to all those who supported this campaign, it could not have happened without you.
- Victorian Trades Hall Council
- Australian Council of Trade Unions
- Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union
- Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
- Australian Nursing Federation
- Electrical Trades Union
- Communication Workers Union
- The Plumbers Union
- Australian Workers Union
- United Firefighters Union
- United Voice
- Maritime Union of Australia
- National Tertiary Education Union
- Australian Services Union Victorian Private Sector Branch
- Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance
- Professional Footballers Association
- Australian Education Union
- Health and Community Services Union
- Australian Services Union Vic Tas
- Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australian
- Community and Public Sector Union (PSU)
- Rail Tram and Bus Union
- And all the community organisations that visited workers at the picket line, donated food and money and their time to help win this struggle.
To read about the campaign from its beginning, you can go to the workers campaign page here or facebook page here