Low paid workers at the Super-A-Mart warehouse in Somerton, Victoria have won their first union agreement following a six-week lockout.
Workers won a 10 per cent pay increase over the next three years. The new union agreement guarantees casual conversion rights, improved redundancy rights and an elected OH&S committee for the site.
The members of the National Union of Workers were indefinitely locked out by management on 7 March after balloting for 24-hour industrial action following stalled EBA negotiations. Paid $20 an hour without a pay rise since 2010, Super-A-Mart workers faced the prospect of a further three years without a pay increase. In an interview with Working Life, NUW delegate Rossario Consentino said:
“We’re dealing with a very hostile company. After numerous negotiations, the company wouldn’t budge from their position…They make millions…but they’d prefer to spend their money on everything except us, the workers.”
Super-A-Mart is notorious for underpaying its staff, after being ordered to repay $1.3 million in unpaid wages to 900 workers by the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2011. There are reports of widespread management bullying and safety breaches on its sites, including workers being forced to continue working following leakages of hydraulic fluid from forklifts.
After the lockout began successful picketing stopped warehouse operations completely. But after a Supreme Court injunction all picketing stopped, including from community members and families of the workers. A high-profile publicity campaign drew in solidarity from the wider union movement and maintained pressure on the company.
NUW members and supporters in Melbourne and Sydney targeted Barbeques Galore and Quadrant Private Equity, the sister and parent companies of Super-A-Mart respectively, in a series of public protests. A “Low Wage Freedom Ride” of 27 locked out workers from Melbourne to Sydney drew attention to the issue of low-paid work and presented a symbolic “low wage contract” to Quadrant CEO Chris Hadley at the company headquarters in Sydney.
The victory for Super-A-Mart workers highlights that even under the Abbott government, low-paid workers can fight for improvements to wages and conditions through building strong unions.
By Jimmy Yan