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Welcome to the Meatworkers Union
Coles employee, Duncan Hart who is an SDA member, is challenging the Coles Store Team Enterprise Agreement. The AMIEU has joined this challenge. Together we argue that the Coles - SDA Enterprise Agreement does not leave workers Better Off.
On Tuesday February 2, the case against Coles went back to the Fair Work Commission. Some of us went to listen
We heard Coles' "expert witnesses" explain how the workers who are paid less than the award are still better off. For example - when he or she received blood donor leave, defence leave, carers' leave, natural disaster leave, unpaid leave and was seriously injured and off work for six months with make up pay and was made redundant - all in one year!
We also heard the SDA Industrial Officer give evidence. The ABC reported him as follows:
Mr Galbraith admitted that some workers would be financially worse off under the agreement, that the union did not provide workers with a copy of the award so they could compare the two, and that it would be impossible for workers to determine whether they were worse off without having the award.
He admitted that Coles employees, who voted to accept the agreement, might not have done so if they had known they could be financially worse off.
Ms Kelly asked Mr Galbraith: "Did you explain to the employees that some of them would earn less than the statutory award minimum?" to which Mr Galbraith replied: "I don't believe that was explained, no."
Ms Kelly then asked whether union representatives did not believe that detail was relevant.
"I don't think it's that they considered that it wasn't relevant. I think they considered that it was a deal that was generally beneficial to the majority of employees that worked for Coles," Mr Galbraith said.
"If they had that information, they may have voted differently."
Ms Kelly asked: "Was the SDA aware at the time the agreement went out to vote that some employees would earn less than the award minimum?"
Mr Galbraith replied: "The SDA's aware that the employees who work predominantly penalty rate times without the compensation of higher base rates of those hours during the week could potentially be worse off."
Two hundred workers at AFFCO, the New Zealand meat company owned by the anti-union Talley family, have been locked out since June last year for resisting the company's brutal push to replace negotiated collective agreements with individual contracts. Talleys/AFFCO is also punishing union members and workplace representatives with suspensions and dismissals.
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Meatworkers have enjoyed a history and a culture of unionism
This has been built over many years and has continued from generation to generation. Work in meatworks and associated workplaces has always been physically hard, dangerous and skilful. Without the strength of organized labour it would undoubtedly be more dangerous and have stayed poorly paid as well.
Most of the conditions and wages many now enjoy were the result of the unity and industrial action (strikes etc) of workers over many years before them. All the major sheds through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties were one hundred percent unionised and were therefore able to put up a united front against powerful employers who would otherwise have exploited them. In Victoria particularly, the AMIEU led the way in the establishment of industrial awards, which many now take for granted. Things like equal pay for women, long service leave, Superannuation, redundancy, annual leave, sick leave and public holidays were established and developed by the union, backed up with united industrial pressure.