Workers at the Coles Somerton warehouse run by Toll have been on indefinite strike since Tuesday 10 July. The workers, who are covered by the National Union of Workers (NUW), have held the line on their picket outside the warehouse, stopping trucks and management from entering.

What the workers are fighting for

The strikers are fighting for five central demands that have been issues since the last Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) three years ago. They are:

  1. Rostered days off (RDOs)—The creation of a roster for dayshift workers that will allow workers to take a rostered day off, and a voluntary public holiday system so workers can choose to work on a public holiday rather than being forced to;
  2. Shift loading—Payment for the entirety of the shift (afternoon or evening) rather than a couple of hours’ payment for each shift as proposed by Toll;
  3. Rights for casuals—An automatic option for direct and indirect casuals to become permanent employees after six months;
  4. Union rights—The inclusion of basic union rights, such as the right of entry for the union;
  5. Wage increases on par with other Coles’ warehouses—Toll workers are paid up to 20 per cent less than workers at other Coles’ distributors.

Coles owns the warehouse, which is its largest distribution centre serving both Victoria and interstate—giving the workers substantial bargaining power.

Coles has outsourced the warehouse operations to Toll Global Logistics, but Coles has ultimate control. The workers are right to demand equality with other Coles sites.

Support the Toll workers - solidarity can win

Many of the workers involved have stressed that whilst pay should certainly be the same as every other worker in distribution at Coles, improving conditions is at the heart of the dispute.

There is a high injury rate at the site. Many of the workers pick stock, which involves bending up and down all day. Targets were raised from 120 to 137 boxes per hour four years ago without any negotiations. Workers want picking targets which aren’t a health and safety risk. Workers want an end to casuals being forced to compete, where the fastest are given more hours. They don’t want to be forced to have union meetings in the car park.

Union delegate Mustafa Arli who works the day shift explained, “The workers were frustrated and were getting tired of getting treated the way there were… We were looking at other companies and everyone was getting better than we were … Being in the union we have to support each other because we are all one, it’s hard work, but we want everything we deserve.”

The money’s there
Coles made $1.8 billion in profits last year and managing Director Ina Mcleod pockets $15.6 million annually. Outgoing Toll Holdings chief executive Paul Little will receive $3 million for his work as an adviser—this is on top of $2.41 million for the last six months of his work at Toll!

These are huge corporations, they have the money to pay, and they can be beaten.

Toll gets court injuction—solidarity can win
Last week around 80 NUW workers took solidarity action at a Coles warehouse in Goulburn, NSW, but were forced back to work after Coles went to Fair Work Australia.

Toll has now taken the NUW to Fair Work Australia in an attempt to rule the Somerton picket “illegal”—but Fair Work ruled against Toll. Then, in an extremely aggressive move, Toll went to the Victorian Supreme Court. They won an injunction to stop NUW officials and 25 individual workers participating in the Somerton picket line.

Coles is vulnerable to industrial action. Its NSW Eastern Creek distribution centre supplies food to all of NSW. Workers there have refused to take over work transfered from Melbourne. Solidarity industrial action can hit Coles and Toll hard.

Even a call by the ACTU for unionists to boycott Coles could hit their profits and show the Toll workers how much support they have.

Victorian Nurses have shown that together workers can defy court orders and hold the line. Nurses took “illegal” strike action in spite of the threat of fines from Fair Work Australia and the Federal Court—and won!

Last November, NUW workers at the Baiada chicken factory also showed how to win by standing strong on the picket line.

Now, everyone needs to support the Somerton workers in their fight against Toll and Coles.

What you can do:

Visit the picket line on the corner of Union and Somerton Roads, Somerton;
Bring a delegation from your workplace to the picket;
Pass resolutions at your workplace to support the strike;
Call on your union and the ACTU to call solidarity action with the Toll strikers;
Sign the petition;
Make a donation—take a collection to the picket line, or donate directly:
Account Name: NUW Vic Coles Somerton Relief Fund BSB Number: 063 074 Account Number: 10014540

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