Coles National Newsletter (July 24 2017)

Dear Coles Member,

Earlier this year we sent out a newsletter asking your views on whether to attempt to force Coles to bargain for either a national meat unit agreement or state enterprise agreements.

The return to that survey was so small that the Federal Executive of the Union decided to wait for now on direct action and keep up pressure on Coles and the SDA publicly.

Clearly this had had some effect and Coles and the SDA have now commenced bargaining for a new retail agreement across Australia but leaving out people who are ‘solely or predominantly working in meat units’.

This leaves us with an opportunity to negotiate new meat agreements, or one national meat unit agreement.  We have had discussions with Coles on this and they have indicated that they will be prepared to negotiate a single national meat unit agreement if we agree to some caveats first.

What Coles want from us as a Union is some undertakings that we agree to before they will agree to bargain.  If Coles do not agree to bargain then we cannot force them to do so unless you all vote to bargain, but attempts to get such a vote have failed on each occasion that we have tried in the last couple of years.  It is why we are where we are currently.  Members have not voted when asked to do so and so we have no legal means to force Coles to the table.

OK, so what are Coles asking us for then?

The key points that Coles want before agreeing to bargain are as follows and we will explain what it all means below;

  1. No industrial action whilst bargaining is ongoing
  2. Flexibility in working arrangements must be the same as what they had in the (now quashed) 2014 enterprise agreement.
  3. The bargaining must be award based.
  4. Meat managers can manage more than just the meat unit.

There are a couple of others that are specific to the behaviour of the AMIEU officials in legal proceedings but these are not relevant to the consideration of the membership as they are only to do with how we approach matters in hearing in the Fair Work Commission.

The first of the points regarding industrial action is probably ok, as long as we are not restricted from exercising our rights if bargaining becomes bogged down.

The others are more significant.

Point 2 regarding flexibility would mean that workers in meat units can be rostered in the store and that store workers could be rostered in meat units (as long as they are predominantly employed in the store.  If they are predominantly employed in the meat unit then the meat agreement would apply).

Clearly Coles want to phase packers out of meat units over a time and have butchers and slicers packing with assistance from store team members when required.  Obviously if that were to be the case then the current packers would want to be protected via savings clauses.

It is unlikely that Coles would pay butchers rates to have butchers work elsewhere in the store other than by agreement but not out of the question.  Packers on the other hand are likely to see their hours split between the meat units and the store under Coles proposals.

Point 3 regarding award based bargaining is code for ‘Coles want to scrap all the current meat unit agreements and start again from scratch, i.e. the award’.

This is a real problem as most of our agreements contain rostering provisions that are far better than the award.  Such things as rostered days off and restrictions on weekend work are via the agreements.

Coles have presented us all with a difficult situation and as a Union we must decide on the course from here.

There are only a couple of choices available to us that are sustainable because all our current agreements have passed their nominal expiry date and could face applications by Coles to terminate them at any time, which would see you back under the award system.

So, what are those options?

  1. Agree to Coles demands and try and negotiate to protect as many of our conditions as we can in a national meat unit agreement. This would at least bring the entire country under one agreement and solidify power to meat unit workers for the future as you would be able to take industrial action as an entire country at the same time.
  2. Attempt to force negotiations in each state to renew state based agreements. This would give each state an opportunity to try and protect what it already has but would likely be an approach that would not benefit all meat unit workers in all states if they cannot get support to take industrial action to force those agreements through.
  3. Refuse Coles demands and try again to get meat unit workers to vote for a new agreement. This is the most obvious choice but has failed successively in the past couple of years to gather support from members.  It would also require follow up industrial action by members to force an agreement to be made because Coles won’t agree otherwise.

Given the poor return in ballots and surveys by our membership in Coles over the last 2 years, the Federal Executive of the Union is now lookingat this on a national basis, rather than state by state as we think it will position us better for the future.If we go down the path of a single national agreement, then it affects all our states and branches equally and we will need to all be on the same path.  We will follow up with another newsletter update shortly.

In solidarity,

Graham Smith
AMIEU Federal Secretary

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