Woolworths workers win wage parity after lockout

United Workers Union meeting at Wyong on August 6. Photo: UWU / Facebook

More than 500 workers at the Woolworths Distribution Centre at Wyong, members of the United Workers Union (UWU), voted on August 6 to accept an improved offer from their employer and return to work.

The workers had maintained a picket outside the distribution centre for almost two weeks, after they were locked out on July 24.

They were demanding pay parity with workers doing the same job for the same company, less than two hours away in Sydney. The workers at Wyong on the New South Wales Central Coast were paid between 8% and 16% less than their Sydney counterparts. They had also called for a ratio of 80% permanent to 20% casual staff.

The workers will receive increases of between 11.2% and 17.4% over three years — almost double what was offered before the lock out. The company has also agreed to the 80:20 permanent to casual ratio and given casuals the right to convert to permanent after 12 months.

The company has also offered to double the redundancy cap, if the site is closed, from 40 weeks to 82 weeks. It has agreed to the union’s demand for recognition, including paid union meetings, and agreed to paid family and domestic violence leave and natural disaster leave.

In March, 87.4% of workers voted in favour of taking protected action for their claim for wage parity and informed the company on July 20 of their intention to take strike action. Negotiations over the next three days failed as the company refused to agree to an acceptable offer, announcing an indefinite lockout on July 24.

Robert Quick, a UWU delegate who has worked at the centre for 14 years, told Green Left this was the first time industrial action had been taken over an enterprise agreement. “The issue is equality,” he said. “We want parity with Sydney. We work for the same company but get $5 an hour less for doing exactly the same job.

“We have been told that because we live on the Central Coast we cannot expect to get Sydney wages. It’s just not right. Our mortgages, rates, food and petrol prices are only minimally different from Sydney, if at all.

“We’ve had a lot of support from other unions, including the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, the Electrical Trades Union and the metal workers, for which we are very grateful. It’s clear that a lot of people are thinking it’s about time someone spoke up for the Central Coast workers who are getting less money just because of where they live.

“We’ve worked through the bushfires, the recent floods and now the pandemic. The company has made a lot of money from the panic-buying and is spending $1 billion on automating their Sydney distribution centres — that will cost about 1500 jobs.”

Revenue for Woolworths supermarkets has grown by 8.6% for the six months to June and is up 10.7% in the previous quarter.

Mia Dabelstein, a UWU organiser, told Green Left: “It shouldn’t be legal for workers for the same company doing the same job to be paid different amounts. It’s not right that a company can build a new warehouse in a different area and employ workers on a lower wage.

“During the lockout Woolworths used its Sydney distribution centres to stock the supermarkets on the Central Coast. It used its COVID-19 contingency plan, which it had to have in case there was an outbreak, to shut the warehouse. The plan gives them the capacity to lock out the workers, but not disrupt the supply chain.”

The UWU said on August 6: “We are proud of our members for taking the fight to one of the biggest companies in this country and inspiring all workers to not accept whatever scraps are tossed their way in this pandemic, but instead stand up, unite and fight for good wages and conditions, decent jobs and a more equal society.”

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