Warehouse workers take the fight up to Toll Logistics

About 500 Toll warehouse workers at Somerton in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have voted for an indefinite strike in their campaign for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

The warehouse is a Coles distribution centre, but Coles outsources the workers to Toll Logistics. This has resulted in workers getting up to 20% less pay than other Coles warehouse workers.

Unlike other Coles warehouse workers, the Toll employees do not get rostered days off and receive no shift loading for most of their afternoon and night shifts. Rights for casual employees and union representatives are inferior compared with other Coles warehouses.

One of the campaign slogans is for “equal rights for equal sites”. The five key claims that the workers are fighting for are:

• Rostered days off for dayshift and full shift loading for afternoon and night shifts.
• Union rights protected in the workplace agreement.
• Rights for casuals protected in the agreement.
• A payrise of 5% a year for three years.
• A voluntary public holiday system.

Toll has rejected all of the claims and has tried to stop the workers holding a ballot to vote on taking industrial action. The National Union of Workers covers the warehouse workers and has worked hard to involve all sections of workers in the campaign — permanents, casuals, day, afternoon and night shift workers.

The union says this is especially important because Toll manipulated the last enterprise bargaining campaign in 2009 when it employed a large number of casual workers for a single shift to vote in favour of a substandard agreement.

When the warehouse was built in 2006-2007, the employment practices sparked a big industrial dispute when metal construction workers resigned their casual employment and set up a 24-hour protest outside the gate.

This group of workers were forced to sign Australian Workplace Agreements with very low pay and conditions compared to the building industry norms.

As a new site, Toll used the “greenfields” component of the Howard government’s Work Choices anti-union laws to open up the warehouse with a greenfields enterprise bargaining agreement. This meant it could get away with ignoring the standards set at other Coles Myer distribution centres.

Toll Logistics is crying poor in its negotiations with the NUW, but it posted a profit of $294 million in the last financial year. Coles’s owner Wesfarmers made a profit of almost $1.2 billion in the last six months of last year.

More companies are now outsourcing their warehouse operations with a resulting cut in pay and conditions for warehouse workers. This practice is referred to as “third-party logistics proposer”.

If Toll does not make an acceptable offer to the workers by 6am on July 10, workers will begin strike action. Supporters around Melbourne are gearing up to provide support to the workers.