Coles warehouse workers win better pay, conditions

Issue 

National Union of Workers (NUW) members at Polar Fresh, Coles' cold storage warehouse in Truganina, in Melbourne's west, have voted for a new workplace agreement after striking for three days.

The 650 workers went on indefinite strike on July 27 over demands for better job security, reduced casualisation and an improvement in their wages from $27 to $30 an hour. A ballot in support of strike action and upholding the demands for higher wages and better job security was supported by 94% of the NUW members on site on July 7.

National Union of Workers (NUW) members at Polar Fresh, Coles' cold storage warehouse in Truganina, in Melbourne's west, have voted for a new workplace agreement after striking for three days.

The 650 workers went on indefinite strike on July 27 over demands for better job security, reduced casualisation and an improvement in their wages from $27 to $30 an hour. A ballot in support of strike action and upholding the demands for higher wages and better job security was supported by 94% of the NUW members on site on July 7.

They won an average of 4.75% wage increase per year, which will see their hourly wage climb to $31 by January 1 2019. Members also won 120 new secure jobs — 50 permanent full time and 70 labour hire agency workers converted to direct employment — with ongoing conversion rights for labour hire casual workers. Improved working conditions such as paid breaks, rostered days off and double time for overtime after two hours were also won.

In the early hours of July 27, the workers blocked the entrance to the warehousing facility and would not allow trucks or supplies in or out. For three days they maintained a picket line supported by the NUW, their families, members of the community and other trade unions.

Coles management won a Supreme Court injunction against the striking workers on July 28, after a legal challenge to their blockade of warehousing operations. But the workers vowed to continue to fight against the company's policies of job insecurity and underpayment, especially as the company earned more than $1.78 billion in profits in the 2014/15 financial year.

Polar Fresh is one of the main suppliers of cold storage facilities and services to the Coles supermarket chain. The warehouse in Truganina is strategically important as it is a supply and distribution centre of dairy, meat and poultry products to the company's supermarkets in Victoria and Tasmania. As such, it was not long before photographs of semi-empty shelves in Coles stores around Melbourne began appearing on social media.

Messages and actions of solidarity in support of the striking workers came from NUW worksites and other unions around the country, including the striking Carlton United Breweries workers in Abbotsford.

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