Workers at the Streets ice-cream factory in Minto are planning a boycott of Streets products — including the iconic Paddle Pop — if Unilever continues its efforts in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to end their enterprise agreement.
The boycott would be similar to the well-supported one imposed on beer giant Carlton & United Breweries products last year during a long-running industrial dispute. Like the CUB campaign, it aims to pressure Unilever to back off by hitting its branding and bottom line.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which represents the 145 Streets workers, said they are worried about the threat of a significant pay cut and reduced conditions if they were to be forced back onto the award.
Referring to the CUB dispute, AMWU secretary Steve Murphy said: “It’s pretty hard to not drink the beer you love. It’s a whole lot easier to change the brand of ice cream you eat ... The effect of a boycott on Unilever is going to be pretty significant.”
Negotiations over a new enterprise agreement broke down after 15 months and workers overwhelmingly rejected the company’s offer. Unilever then refused to participate in further talks and last month applied to the FWC to terminate the agreement.
Murphy said: “We had the agreement voted down 132 to nine. That was in July. Since then the company has not met with the union once. They refused to meet with us and they refused to allow our delegates to participate in any discussions about the agreement.
“They refuse to allow any of our delegates to attend the Fair Work Commission meetings, and what they’ve said is that ‘if any of your delegates show up to the commission, we will leave’.”
Murphy said if workers were forced back on the award, their pay would be slashed by up to 46%. They would also lose limits on overtime, annual, personal, parental and compassionate leave, redundancy conditions and protections against use of labour hire and contractors.
The AMWU asked members to text them about how such a pay cut would affect them. One said: “How am I going to feed my family, pay my home loan that was granted based on my current wage, pay my bills, clothe my children?”
Another said: “If my pay drops I’m worried I won’t be able to pay for living expenses plus treatment my kids need as they have autism and need lots of therapy ... It’s hard enough as it is now...”
Murphy said the text messages revealed the “human impact of an industrial relations system that is rigged against working people”.
“One person even wrote that they’re worried about whether or not their family would be able to stay together if their pay was cut by 46%.”
Murphy said workers had already cut production costs significantly, and were given guarantees that doing so would ensure the site’s viability.
He said the workers are angry but that “the biggest feeling is disappointment”.
“They’ve worked hard for this company … and the first time there’s a hiccup in whatever the company’s agenda is, they just go into an all-out attack on the workers.”
Murphy said the relationship with the company had previously been healthy and productive. Now, the company had installed CCTV cameras to monitor workers, and threatened disciplinary action against anyone who shared posts as part of the AMWU’s social media campaign.
The union is asking supporters to email Unilever to urge them to negotiate a fair deal. A pro forma email is available on the AMWU’s website.