Australia: Possible Woolworths strikes spark warnings of a broader wages movement

 

Australia: Possible Woolworths strikes spark warnings of a broader wages movement

By
Oscar Grenfell

31 October 2017

The threat of strikes at four major warehouses owned by Woolworths, one of Australia’s two biggest supermarket chains, have triggered warnings in the financial press of a broader push for higher pay, under conditions of the lowest annual wage growth in recorded history.

The National Union of Workers (NUW) applied this month to the Fair Work Commission, the federal government’s pro-business industrial tribunal, to take protected industrial action at four Woolworths warehouses in Victoria and New South Wales during November and December.

The stoppages would occur during continued negotiations between the trade union and Woolworths for new enterprise agreements covering up to 2,000 workers at the sites.

As a result of successive union-brokered deals, the workers are paid on average less than $25 an hour for demanding physical labour. The sellout agreements have resulted in expanded casualisation and part-time work, and the gutting of working conditions.

According to the NUW, it is pressing for wage increases averaging $2 an hour across the sites. The pay rise would be an increase of more than 6 percent for some workers. At the same time, the union is continuing back-door negotiations that will undoubtedly involve further undermining working conditions in return for any wage rise.

The three Victorian warehouses, at Broadmeadows, Laverton and Wodonga, are reportedly key to Woolworths’ operations throughout the state, prompting fears in corporate circles of disruption across its supermarket network.

The Broadmeadows site, which employs 700 workers, including in part-time and casual roles, is slated for closure in the next 12 to 18 months. Since workers…

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