Nearly 80 workers at Laverton Cold Storage in Melbourne’s western suburbs went on strike for the first time on June 25 when negotiations for their first enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) broke down.
The Laverton workers are the lowest paid cold storage workers in Victoria, with a base rate of $20.50 an hour — only 30 cents more than the minimum wage. They work in sub-zero temperatures ranging from -10°C to -35°C. Laverton Cold Storage recently doubled the size of its facility in Truganina, showing it is not short of money.
Workers have been demanding a new EBA with better conditions including secure employment for casual staff and merging the bonus rate of $3.30 with the base rate. This is important because the boss can remove the bonus at a whim and their overtime rate is calculated on the base rate of pay.
Workers at the picket told Green Left Weekly that there were many instances of bullying by management. Workers have been sacked on the spot for a minor misdemeanour and then re-instated the next day. Bonus rates were often withheld for a week or more for a minor lapse and without the knowledge of the workers.
Overtime is compulsory for most workers with 12-hour shifts being the norm. Some workers have been forced to work 14-hour shifts for nine months straight. But the overtime rates were calculated on their base wages and not their bonus rates. If workers refuse overtime, they don’t get called back and are replaced by labour hire casuals.
Labour hire casual workers don’t receive any bonuses. Many have been employed for long periods without being offered direct full-time employment.
Workers are demanding improved conditions such as adequate freezer clothing, equipment and safe work loads and mandated warm-up periods. One worker said he had been denied freezer clothing because the company did not have his size.
The universal complaint was that workers were not considered human beings or treated with respect.
As Green Left Weekly goes to print, National Union of Workers officials, workers and anyone seen blocking trucks have received injunction orders to stop them picketing. Community members are now rallying to support the picket line.
For such low-paid workers who are new to the union to take indefinite strike action in support of their rights shows a lot of nerve. They welcome support and solidarity.
[Visit the picket line at 125 Foundation Drive, Truganina. Donate and share the fundraising page.]