Striking Chemist Warehouse workers hold strong

Chemist Warehouse staff on strike.

Chemist Warehouse workers have succeeded in blocking trucks from entering or leaving the company’s Somerton and Preston distribution centres since beginning an indefinite strike on March 12. Workers at a Chemist Warehouse distribution centre in Eagle Farm, Brisbane, are also on indefinite strike.

The workers are members of the National Union of Workers (NUW).

The distribution centres supply Chemist Warehouse and My Chemist stores across Australia. As a result, some stores are running very low on stock.

NUW national secretary Tim Kennedy told a rally in Melbourne on the first day of the strike that workers at these distribution centres are being paid 25% less than others in the industry.

The workers have three key demands: a 25% wage rise to achieve wage parity; convert 80% of jobs at the distribution centres into permanent positions (instead of the current level of 20%) and move casuals to permanent after six months; and an end to the toxic culture of bullying and harassment.

NUW delegate Husain Alqatari told Green Left Weekly that there are about 250-300 labour hire workers and only 50 permanent workers at the Preston distribution centre. The other Chemist Warehouse distribution centres have a similarly high number of casual workers.

Alqatari said that some of the casual workers are getting as little as one day’s work a week.

Workers rely on text messages, sometimes as late as 10pm, to let them know if they are working the following day, and are often put on unpaid standby for weeks at a time.

Workers are also calling out the company’s toxic culture of bullying and sexual harassment.

Workers have lodged complaints regarding bullying and sexual harassment with human resources at Chemist Warehouse and the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.

Many workers say the workplace is rife with incidents of bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is often in the form of managers telling workers that they will get more shifts if they have sex with them. Workers who complain of sexual harassment are regularly shifted to another site while the perpetrator remains in their job.

Chemist Warehouse founders Jack Gance and Mario Verrocchi have amassed huge wealth, including mansions in Toorak, through the exploitation of these workers.

They have set up a complicated network of franchises to avoid regulations that restrict pharmacy store location and restrict pharmacy ownership to pharmacists themselves.

In 2016, Chemist Warehouse was forced to pay more than $3.5 million in back pay to store workers. The company had been refusing to pay workers that stayed back for compulsory training after they had finished their shift.

Workers have shown a huge amount of guts and determination in an industrial climate where there are fewer and fewer strikes.

Their victory will be a victory for all workers.

We need to build broad community support for this strike to sustain the workers until they win.

[Visit the picket lines at 51 Filo Dr, Somerton, 44 Raglan St, Preston and 41 Tradecoast Dr, Eagle Farm. Donations for the workers’ strike fund can be made at chuffed.org.]

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