What started as a 24-hour strike for a fair redundancy package has become indefinite industrial action by workers at Coles’ Smeaton Grange depot in Western Sydney.
Workers at the supermarket giant’s distribution facility walked off the job on November 19 to fight for better redundancy packages, job transfers and job security after being informed that Coles was closing the facility for three months until mid-February.
Two years ago, workers at the Smeaton Grange warehouse were told their workplace would be shut down by 2023 to prepare for automation.
The United Workers Union (UWU) has been negotiating a new collective agreement, including a fair redundancy package; the right to transfer to the new automated Coles warehouse without loss of wages; and job security for long-term casual workers.
Coles sales have soared by 6.9% and earnings have risen by 10.7% during the pandemic lockdown. Coles CEO Steven Cain’s annual salary rose by 28.9% to more than $7 million.
UWU spokesperson Matt Toner said in November the lock-out was an “attempt to intimidate workers into accepting unfair conditions”.
“Coles’ intention to automate is anti-community in its mindless pursuit of profit,” he said. “Workers want the right to keep their job at the new facility and if not want to be respected for the many years of service they have given to ensure Coles’ profits, even throughout this global pandemic.”
“Automation is a historically significant challenge facing workers across the world.
“Workers at Smeaton Grange, and across the Coles supply chain, are demanding to be respected by a multi-billion dollar company as it changes the world of work in ways never seen before. Workers want a just transition. For many nearing the end of their working lives, finding another job will be difficult and finding another full-time permanent job could be impossible. Coles has a responsibility to workers that have given so much.”
The striking Coles workers have received support from the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Macarthur Labor MP Dr Mike Freelander and more than 4000 people who have signed a petition.
The UWU has launched a National Boycott Coles: Lock Out Coles This Christmas! campaign to raise pressure on the supermarket giant. A support action by the May 1 Movement will be held on December 4 outside the temporary, non-unionised warehouse sheds being leased by Coles in Prospect.