Striking Chemist Warehouse workers secure win

Chemist Warehouse workers on a picket line. Photo: National Union of Workers/FB

The National Union of Workers (NUW), which represents Chemist Warehouse workers that had been on indefinite strike since March 12, announced on March 28 that workers had voted that morning to accept a new agreement covering those employed in the company's distribution centres across Victoria and Queensland.

The new agreement contains strong wage rises, greater security of employment and a commitment from all to have a respectful and productive workplace.

Under the new agreement, all casual labour hire members who have been on strike will get permanent jobs while other labour hire workers will be converted to permanent after 6 months, according to statement released by the NUW. Other gains include improved severance pay; recognition of, and training in, gendered violence; members on 4 day week can move to 5 day week; and paid delegate time, paid delegate training, paid union meetings.

Chemist Warehouse distribution centre workers had been striking to demand wage parity and improved conditions.

About 200 workers also attended a rally to support striking Chemist Warehouse workers outside the company’s head office and Preston warehouse on March 22.

National Union of Workers (NUW) national secretaryTim Kennedy told the rally that “wage justice” is one of the important reasons for going out. Chemist Warehouse workers are paid about 25% less than workers elsewhere doing the same job .

Insecure work was another reason. About 75% of workers are casuals, employed via labour hire companies, who have to wait for a text message to know if they will have work the next day. Kennedy described how the company likes to keep people “hungry for work”.

Kennedy said that Chemist Warehouse’s owners had become “billionaires almost overnight” because of their exploitative practices.

Harassment and bullying, including sexual harassment, was another of the workers’ grievances.

Husain Alqatari, a delegate at the Preston site, said many women have been sexually harassed. This creates an unsafe work environment where complaints that have supposedly been investigated have not been resolved, he said.

When Alqatari defended a worker who had lodged a complaint of sexual harassment, he was threatened with the sack.

Dave Hiah, a labour hire worker at the Somerton Distribution Centre, said casual workers were scared, but are now united with the permanent workers to demand better wages and conditions.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari condemned the company’s aggression. He said three workers on the picket line had been injured by security guards driving into them. In one case, a woman worker was hospitalised after a security guard reversed his car into her on the picket line.

The company has also engaged in petty harassment by dumping a load of blood and bone on the footpath in front of the picketers.

Federal shadow minister for workplace relations Lisa Chesters and United Voice Victorian secretary Jess Walsh also addressed the rally.

NUW organiser Jenna Christie sang a song about the life of a warehouse worker.

On March 26, the Fair Work Commission found that Chemist Warehouse was not bargaining in good faith and ordered that the vote to approve the enterprise agreement be delayed by at least 21 days with bargaining meetings to continue.