Workers at Woolworths Brisbane Liquor Distribution Centre in Stapylton have won their union agreement. After nine months of bitter negotiation, was it the joy of the festive season that finally moved the bosses to sign? Not likely. It was the threat of strike action at the busiest time of the year that forced these scrooges to cede to the workers’ claims.
After first striking in October, workers agreed to put off a second picket on the understanding that management would meet their demands. What management actually did was try to lock out their union, the National Union of Workers, and bring in the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA) to sign a second rate agreement.
The scab agreement devised by the company and the SDA didn’t provide site rates for casual labour hire workers. Protection of casuals’ rights is a key issue for the workers, who have resisted management’s divide and rule tactics.
In an attempt to get the sub standard agreement up, the company brought in extra casuals who were given an SDA induction and told to vote "yes" to the agreement. The SDA and management colluded in a campaign of misinformation in the lead up to the vote. Workers and delegates countered their scheming by talking to new casuals, explaining the lay of the land and winning them to a “no” vote.
After the SDA agreement was rejected, the company met with the NUW and verbally agreed to grant the workers’ claims. But when the written agreement followed, it became clear that management was trying to renege on a key claim. Fed up, the call for strike action spread quickly across the floor.
Delegate Mark Barclay says this is what clinched it in the end: “Industrial action, or the threat of it, is our most effective weapon against the bosses – always has been and it always will be."
Key terms of the agreement are a 4 percent wage rise this year and 3.6 percent next year (up from an original offer of 1.8 percent) Also secured are union rights including access to the site, induction, delegate training and paid union meetings. Importantly, the agreement also provides equal rights and rates for casual workers as well a clause to prevent victimisation on the basis of failure to meet unrealistic production targets. The SDA has been removed as a signatory to the agreement.
Congratulations and merry Christmas to the workers at Stapylton. As I quaff some Christmas cheer this year I'll do it happy in the knowledge that it’s come from a fighting union warehouse.