Coles workers say ‘no’ to non-union agreement

January 15, 2021
Coles workers rally in Sydney on December 2. Photo: Pip Hinman

Workers locked out of Coles’ Smeaton Grange warehouse in Western Sydney are campaigning strongly for a “no” vote on the company’s non-union agreement on January 15 between 2-9pm.

The agreement includes a clause which would allow Coles to victimise workers who have been involved in the campaign for job security.

If the ballot is successful, Coles will ask the Fair Work Commission to approve its non-union agreement.

Coles is currently building a new automated warehouse but, so far, has refused to give skilled and long-serving warehouse workers in Smeaton Grange an opportunity to be redeployed to it.

Some of the 350 workers have worked for Coles for more than 30 years.

They are seeking better redundancy packages, which include an automation settlement, the right to transfer to the new Coles warehouse and job security.

The rank-and-file Concerned Workers Smeaton Grange group is calling on union members to vote “no” to the non-union agreement.

“For seven weeks, Coles has tried to starve us out. Now, they want to send us back to work with the same rotten deal we voted against seven weeks ago and have consistently rejected since we were locked out,” they said on January 11.

Coles’ new non-union agreement includes a clause which allows Coles to victimise active unionists and a Coles boss has already said it they would be looking at “about 10 people to have a conversation about behaviour” with. Clause 9 gives Coles management the sort of power that is “just not acceptable”, the workers said.

The group said that if the non-union agreement got up, the union would be “severely weakened, not just at Smeaton Grange, but everywhere”.

Coles has not budged on the redundancy package, the union group said. It has ignored the workers’ claims on job security, including anti-harassment provisions and the use of casuals.

It reiterated that the workers are not just fighting for a good redundancy package, they also want better conditions at work.

The United Workers Union (UWU) has helped organise solidarity actions with the Smeaton Grange workers, including a rally in Sydney on December 12 and a national day of protest on December 17.

“Coles is one of the biggest private sector employers in this country,” UWU national secretary Tim Kennedy said. “They cannot walk away from workers whose jobs they want to abandon without negotiating a proper automation settlement.”

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