Coles National Newsletter - September 2014


Since our last newsletter in August a lot has happened. 

The AMIEU continues to resist being drawn into the national retail agreement that is negotiated between Coles and the SDA. The Transport Workers Union are also resisting being drawn into it. 

As a compromise we have offered to negotiate a stand-alone agreement for meat unit workers that would apply across Australia. Coles have rejected this outright. 

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a way forward the AMIEU has applied to Fair Work Australia for what is called a “scope order”. A scope order is something that can be applied for if any party to a proposed agreement believes that the scope of the agreement (who it applies to) is unfair. The Transport Workers Union made a similar application shortly after we made ours. 

If we are successful in that application then the meat unit workers would be separated away from the national retail agreement. If we are unsuccessful then it is likely that the company will roll out the agreement with the consent of the SDA and attempt to use the superior numbers of the shop workers to vote up the agreement. This would see all of our state based agreements eventually disappear as they each in turn reach their expiry dates. At that point our terms and conditions would be regulated by the national retail agreement. 

The AMIEU is doing everything it can to prevent the loss of the current meat unit enterprise agreements with Coles. 

The Union is flying in delegates from the Coles stores from almost all of the states in Australia to the negotiations to ensure that our member’s views are represented in the best possible fashion as well as in accordance with our normal practice of having delegates participate directly. The TWU also has a delegation of shop floor delegates present at these negotiations. The SDA has no delegates present at the meetings and their national executive body handles the negotiations. One of our biggest problems is that we have to work within the law during this process and that particular law has presented us with some difficult technical challenges. 

For example; we do not want to negotiate anything other than our existing state based agreements that currently apply in all states except Queensland and the Northern Territory but Coles and the SDA can legally roll out a new agreement that will replace our agreements after they reach their expiry dates. Therefore if we do nothing and we do not attend the negotiating meetings, Coles and the SDA can simply do this agreement without us. 

We are able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for a scope order but only in relation to a proposed agreement and so we need to be attempting to negotiate an agreement in order to be able to succeed. Our proposal for a national meat-unit-worker-only agreement satisfies that requirement. The catch-22 of this proposal is that we are unable to take any industrial action until all of the current meat agreements have expired. Some of those agreements still have many months left on them. 

This is in no uncertain terms a ‘shit sandwich’ and we are doing everything possible to protect our member’s conditions but as you can see it is a very complex problem. 

We have a number of strategies for protecting our current terms and conditions and those include:

  1. Achieving the scope order but this then requires the negotiation of a national meat unit agreement,
  2. We succeed in persuading the store workers along with our members to vote down any agreement that tries to eliminate our meat conditions,
  3. The possibility of industrial action in those states with expired agreements if we cannot achieve a national meat-unit-worker agreement.

As we said before we will need all members to be doing what they can to talk with the store workers whether they be SDA members or not and encourage them to vote down any such agreement. Yes we realise that this is a big ask but if we fail to stop Coles by achieving the scope order then we must do everything we can to stop the agreement being voted up. 

If the national retail agreement is put up to the vote we will embark upon a national Vote NO campaign aimed at all workers in the Coles supermarkets, not just AMIEU members and we will ask all of our members to support that campaign as best as they can. 

Our scope order application is before the Commission now and will look at all of the evidence about the history of agreements between the AMIEU and Coles and all of the proceedings to date. 

The SDA has put on record that they will be objecting to our application and will lead evidence as to why we should not be granted the order. 

The hearing will take some weeks to conclude and we will keep you informed as developments unfold. In the meantime we ask members to be ready to support a national Vote NO campaign. 

When it comes to an agreement that reduces your current terms just remember Coles’ policy when it goes to the vote: 

Graham Smith
Federal Secretary