In the normal course of events the SDA generally do deals with Coles and Woolworths for new enterprise agreements to cover supermarket workers within those chains, and until recently the AMIEU had separate agreements in most states with both companies for meat staff.
In the last round of bargaining the SDA agreed with Coles and Woolworths to cover all meat staff under their national retail deal and use legal technicalities to eliminate the remaining meat agreements in both companies and in all states.
Whilst the SDA and the retail chains may have at first been popping champagne corks at their cunning victory over worker’s wages and conditions, it has come at the cost of now having the AMIEU in the national negotiations. And we are not letting them off cheaply.
Firstly the Coles agreement was found to be substandard by the Fair Work Commission. The Commission would only approve it if Coles agreed to undertakings that fixed up some of the shortfalls in wages to workers that were the result of the trade-offs of yours and the other store workers conditions conceded to Coles by the SDA.
Once this (still substandard) deal and the undertakings by Coles was eventually approved by the Commission, an employee of Coles got some legal assistance to appeal that decision. The AMIEU spoke to that employee’s legal adviser and instead of having two appeals on foot, we instead agreed to support the workers appeal. Accordingly we did not need to put in our own appeal at that time, however circumstances later changed with Coles and the SDA asserting that the workers appeal shouldn’t be heard and so the AMIEU also appealed in our own right to ensure the proceedings continued. A barrister represents us in the proceedings and this matter continues before the Fair Work Commission where we are arguing that the agreement pays less than the award.
Our argument has been greatly assisted in the proceedings, especially by the witnesses that Coles and the SDA are relying upon to fight us.
Corporate consultants Ernst And Young were enlisted by the Coles / SDA side to show that the agreement was better than the award. The first issue for them was that in giving evidence to the Commission (where you have to tell the truth) they immediately agreed that the penalty rates in agreement do in fact leave workers with less than the award.
The next problem for these ‘experts’ was that they were relying on other ‘benefits’ of the agreement to make up the shortfall in wages to employees but that in order for the shortfall to be made up, every employee would have to access 8 hours blood donor leave; 10 days’ defence service leave; 5 days of unpaid leave; 11 days of carer’s leave; 3 days’ compassionate leave; 3 days’ emergency services leave; 3 days’ natural disaster leave; were off work for 26 weeks with a serious injury receiving accident make-up pay and were made redundant!
On top of this they then conceded that they hadn’t factored into their calculations the added losses of various types of award allowances such as freezer work.
And just to cap it off entirely, they admitted they hadn’t actually looked at the award!
Because of the similarity between the Coles and Woolworths national agreements, Woolworths has now advised us that they will not roll out their new agreement until the Coles matter is decided because it may affect their agreement as well. This is unsurprising as both agreements have similar defects when compared to the award.
In the meantime a worker in a Victorian Woolworths store has nominated himself as a bargaining representative on behalf of some 34 workers in his store. He has just attended his first meeting at the negotiating table where he put forth a log of claims to Woolworths on behalf of the workers that he represents.
And we must say that he did a very good job of it too, comparing rosters to show how many of the workers in his store will be worse off under this deal than the award. Woolworths will reply to his log in late March when Woolworths next meet with the bargaining representatives.
Quite frankly it is refreshing to see that workers outside of the meat units are starting to pay more attention to these agreement negotiations. Over the years meat workers have taken action to secure decent deals whilst the other workers copped worse and worse penalty rates and rosters, leading to Coles and Woolworths wanting us out of the way so that they can reduce conditions to meet the low store penalty rates.
These national retail deals are bad news. They undermine penalty rates and wages as a whole. These deals can’t simply be rubber-stamped by the Fair Work Commission any longer without proper scrutiny.
The AMIEU is in there fighting for justice for its members with the limited avenues that we now have open to us but we intend to fight to prove that these deals leave workers with less than what the award pays.
The supermarket spin doctoring is in full swing in attempts to try and discredit our efforts but as can already be seen, the Fair Work Commission agreed that there were problems with Coles agreement and the witnesses in the Commission proceedings are verifying exactly that.
More news as it happens.
Yours in solidarity,