The SDA, through its National Secretary Joe de Bruyn and its Victorian Secretary Michael Donovan, has secretly entered into a deal with Woolworths/Safeway that is designed to reduce Safeway’s meat room employees to the same level as workers employed elsewhere in its supermarkets.
Similar Agreements

Currently Victorian Safeway meat room employees are covered by an AMIEU agreement  which is much the same as the agreement that covers meat rooms at Coles.

The Coles and Safeway agreements were entered into at almost the same time. The current agreement at Coles was approved in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on 25th September 2008 and it expires on 30th August 2011. The Safeway agreement was approved on 15th December 2008 and it expires on 26th September 2011.

What Happened at Safeway

In mid 2008 the AMIEU approached Woolworths’ HR Department seeking to commence negotiations for a new agreement to replace the then agreement which was to expire in September 2008.

The AMIEU appointed a negotiating committee made up of Union officials and eight Union members, both butchers and packers/cabinet attendants.  This committee had about three meetings with Woolworths HR which resulted in an agreement that the negotiating committee was prepared to recommend for acceptance by the Safeway meat room members.

The 2008 agreement retained all of the conditions that are exclusive to Victorian supermarket meat room workers employed at Safeway, Coles or the majority of independent Victorian supermarkets.  These include:

  • RDOs,
  • 75% penalty for work on Saturday,
  • 100% penalty for work on Sunday,
  • 50% penalty for work after 6pm Monday to Friday, 100% adult rate for cabinet attendants,
  • 100% adult rate at 20 years,
  • 25% loading for casuals,
  • non-compulsory work on Sunday.

The agreement was ratified in the AIRC in January 2009 and the increased wage rates were paid backdated to September 2008.  The Agreement was for three years with an expiry date of 26 September 2011.

Clandestine Negotiations

We now know that at the same time we were negotiating in good faith with Woolworths Safeway, the SDA and other Woolworths management were also negotiating for a national supermarket agreement which would succeed the Victorian meat room agreement. 

The difference between the two sets of negotiations was that our negotiations were public, the AMIEU committee included Safeway employees, and the results were made known to the meat room workers by way of newsletters and report back by the members of the negotiating committee. 

On the other hand, the SDA Woolworths negotiations were in absolute secrecy, were unknown by most of the SDA officials and all of the SDA members and involved very few people.

The AMIEU did not find out about the SDA’s act of treachery until about June 2009, and even then both de Bruyn and Victorian SDA Secretary Michael Donovan sought to suggest that it was unlikely that the SDA would agree that Victorian meat rooms should be included.  This of course was far from the truth.

It is now clear that the SDA was fully prepared to enter into an agreement with Woolworths knowing full well that its aim was to take away all the conditions Victorian meat room employees had secured and kept through their AMIEU agreements. 

AMIEU Denied Participation

As soon as the AMIEU discovered that the SDA negotiations were going on, and that the intention was to include Victorian meat room employees, we notified Woolworths’ management that we wished to participate in those negotiations on behalf of our members. Woolworths took some weeks to respond, and even then only after a second letter from the AMIEU had been sent.

Scope Order Denied

When the AMIEU and Woolworths did meet, we were informed that the SDA agreement was for all intents and purposes finished, and that Woolworths was not prepared to alter it. The Union then sought a scope order from Fair Work Australia that would require Woolworths to negotiate with the AMIEU on behalf of Safeway meat room employees. 

The Union’s application for a scope order was rejected by Fair Work Australia, and our appeal against the original decision was also rejected. 

Inferior Agreement

Safeway/Woolworths members are currently being asked to vote for this SDA agreement. The agreement is of no benefit whatsoever to meat room employees. However as the SDA and Woolworths have intended since they first began their clandestine negotiations, the AMIEU Safeway members’ vote will be meaningless. The tens of thousands of other Woolworths workers who are to be covered by the agreement will vote yes to obtain a pay rise. Most will not know or will not care that in doing so they are also voting to remove the Safeway meat room workers’ conditions. The majority of those who will vote away the meat room workers’ conditions will no longer be employed when this disgraceful SDA agreement supersedes the AMIEU agreement in September 2011.

What the Safeway Agreement Does

It is proposed that the Agreement, when ratified, will take effect on 26th September 2011, when the current AMIEU agreement runs out. It will operate until 30th June 2012.

The agreement purports to “grandfather” the current conditions. Existing employees will be asked to elect to keep their current conditions, but only until 30th June 2010 (ie almost 9 months), in return for a 3.5% wage increase, or in return for another $36.39 for a butcher, give up the 75% Saturday penalty for working after 6pm Monday to Friday, casual loading reduced from 25% to 20%, and agree that Woolworths can roster you to work at any time 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The “grandfathering” provisions are of course meaningless. Those who currently do not work weekends and don’t want to, who vote for the bigger wage increase, will then be at the mercy of the employer who will have the right to roster them to work night or day, 7 days a week. Those who vote to have their penalties “grandfathered” will not be rostered to work on weekends, or whenever they cost more to employ than other workers. 

Disgraceful Agreement

As far as Victorian meat room employees are concerned, this is a disgraceful agreement. It is not surprising that Woolworths wish to reduce their meat room employees’ conditions to the level of the rest of Australia.  Indeed, they have tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to achieve this in their negotiations with the AMIEU.

Rather than try again, they have instead called on their friends at the SDA to collaborate in an exercise that they hope will ultimately leave a fully qualified butcher as interchangeable in supermarkets as a kid stacking shelves after school.

Sell Out

It is not surprising that the SDA participated in this contemptible furtive exercise. Mr. de Bruyn continues to issue press statements attacking various governments for reducing penalty rates, but Mr. de Bruyn’s SDA has sold out penalty rates at bargain prices for many years. Now he is calling on his Association’s members to sell out the conditions of Victorian meat room workers.

Union Membership Vital

The reduction in conditions in the retail industry will not stop unless workers join together to protect their interests.

It is important that the AMIEU participates in any future negotiations involving your pay and working conditions and that the process is transparent and inclusive. 

You need to maintain your AMIEU membership and encourage your work mates to join, to ensure these processes are conducted in public, unlike the recent secret negotiations, and to enable us to keep you informed on any developments.
It is obvious the SDA is not to be trusted. Coles members must be vigilant so that we can ensure that what has happened at Safeway does not happen at Coles. SDA representatives need to understand that we will not tolerate any interference by the SDA into the Coles AMIEU agreement.

For advice or any further information contact Union Organisers:
Laurie Burley 0418 103627,
Bob Savine 0417 328854,
or ring the Union office on the number above.