Streets workers end boycott after pay win

November 25, 2017

Workers at the Streets ice-cream factory in the south-western Sydney suburb of Minto voted on November 22 to end a boycott campaign against the company, after agreeing to ratify an in-principle agreement with Streets over pay and other issues.

The new agreement will reportedly give the workers a 5% wage increase over three years, maintain their current working conditions and rosters and add 39 new flexible part-time jobs to the company’s workforce.

"Christmas has come early for Streets workers and their supporters in the Australian community," Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) NSW state secretary Steve Murphy said.

"This is an enormous victory for fairness. We are pleased that Australians can get back to enjoying these iconic Australian-made ice-creams."

More than 140 Streets workers had voted on October 29 to launch a public boycott campaign, led by the AMWU, on all the company's ice-creams — including Paddle Pop, Magnum, Bubble O'Bill and Golden Gaytime — over the coming summer.

The campaign was ignited by the British-Dutch multinational Unilever, which owns Streets, gaining permission from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to terminate its enterprise bargaining agreement. Workers would have lost up to 46% of their pay if forced onto the award wage as a result.

The AMWU began a social media campaign, #streetsfreesummer, which caused a huge public backlash against the company and received widespread community involvement in the boycott. More than 1.5 million people across the country indicated support for the boycott campaign.

Unilever agreed to withdraw its application to terminate the agreement in the FWC on November 22.

ACTU secretary Sally Mcmanus welcomed the outcome. She said the Streets dispute was only the most recent example of a major company challenging the right of unionists to negotiate fairly and using the FWC to terminate an enterprise agreement prematurely.

"We need to change the rules so that no more workers have to face the nuclear option of their agreement being terminated," she said. "The system is broken and we need to give more power to working people and protect their rights."

The precedent for terminating an enterprise agreement was set by rail freight operator Aurizon in 2015. Other major companies have followed suit over the past couple of years, in a serious challenge to the right of unions to negotiate new agreements and engage in industrial action to back up their claims.

Other recent cases of successful company moves to terminate agreements include Griffin Coal last year and AGL this year. Unions say this approach undermines workers' ability to renegotiate collective agreements as they near their expiry dates.

The union movement is demanding this provocative approach by employers be curtailed.

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