Coles workers take to the streets to save their jobs

The Coles workers march down Parramatta Road. Photo: Peter Boyle

Several hundred Coles workers and supporters marched from Hyde Park through the city streets to the Broadway Shopping Centre on December 12 in protest at the lock-out of 350 workers from the Smeaton Grange warehouse. They sat down on the road outside the shopping centre to make their case.

Chants of “Who stole Christmas? Coles stole Christmas!” echoed up and down Parramatta Road as passers-by took flyers and expressed solidarity.

Coles has locked out the workers, who are mostly older, after decades of service. The workers are campaigning for a better redundancy package and guarantees of jobs in other Coles workplaces for younger workers. The lock-out is part of Coles automatisation drive.

Earlier, a student-led climate rally marched to Hyde Park to show solidarity with the Coles’ workers.

“The Coles CEO received a 29% pay rise [this year], while the company sacks its long-term workers,” a United Workers Union (UWU) delegate told the crowd. “The mainstream media paint us as ‘greedy’, but we are only seeking to defend our jobs and conditions.

“Coles have done better out of the COVID-19 pandemic than almost any other company. We are calling on the community to support us and boycott Coles over the holiday period,”

One sacked Coles warehouse worker told Green Left: “Other workers can assist us by thinking about spending their Christmas money elsewhere. We urge workers and their families not to support Coles, which is exploiting and attacking its workers at this vital time of the year.”

UWU delegates and organisers said Coles was planning to replace 1500 permanent positions with 50. Mark, who had been with Coles for 38 years, said the Smeaton Grange warehouse workers had been without pay for weeks and that Coles was not interested in bargaining in good faith.

“All we are asking for is secure jobs”, Mark said. “Automation is about all of our futures. What’s wrong with the Liberal government that lets 350 workers go without pay just just before Christmas?”

Ivan said that workers had worked through the pandemic, and the bush fires, and that had helped communities. But, it had also helped Coles, which recorded record profits.

Mark Morey, secretary of UnionsNSW, Jo-ann Schofield, UWU national president and David Barrow from the Sydney Alliance also addressed the crowd at Hyde Park saying the locked-out workers had the union movement's “full solidarity”.

Representatives from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union and the NSW Teachers Federation were also present to show their solidarity.

[For more information on the Boycott Coles campaign visit www.unitedworkers.org.au]