20th November 2009

As reported in our previous newsletter, Woolworths and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) have been involved in secret negotiations for an Australia-wide Agreement covering all non-salaried employees of Woolworths supermarkets around Australia.  This includes meat room employees in Victoria and Tasmania who already have their own separate agreements.  The Victorian meat room agreement does not expire until September 2011.

Victorian Agreement Superior

The Victorian AMIEU agreement contains conditions which all other Woolworths employees do not enjoy.  These conditions were won and retained by AMIEU members in Safeway meat rooms in Victoria. 
These unique Victorian meat room conditions include:

  • RDO
  • 75% penalty rate for Saturday
  • 100% penalty rate for Sunday
  • 50% penalty rate after 6pm Mon to Fri
  • 100% adult rate for Cabinet Attendants
  • 100% adult rate at 20 years
  • 25% loading for casuals
  • non-compulsory work on Sundays

Conditions Surrendered by SDA

These conditions are an embarrassment to the SDA, which has never tried to achieve them, or, as in the case of weekend penalties, has meekly given them up when asked by Woolworths and Coles.

Victorians Have Fought for Conditions

At each EBA negotiation with the AMIEU in Victoria, Woolworths has attempted to take back some or all of these conditions.  Up to now Woolworths has not been successful.

Victorian Agreement Sabotaged

Woolworths asked its friends at the SDA to help them achieve what they have not been able to obtain through negotiation with Victorian meat room employees.

The SDA agreed to negotiate in secret with Woolworths for an agreement which would take effect in Victoria the day after the Victorian AMIEU agreement runs out; that is 26th September 2011.
They have reached an agreement that effectively takes away most of the Victorian conditions listed above, although it seeks to hide behind a “savings clause” which is a favourite ploy of the SDA when it gives up its members’ conditions.
Race to Beat Rudd Legislation

The negotiations between the SDA and Woolworths commenced in December 2008; that is before the Victorian AMIEU and Safeway/Woolworths Agreement 2008 had been ratified in the Industrial Relations Commission. 

The negotiations were secret because the SDA was desperate to have it finalised under John Howard’s WorkChoices Legislation, and before the Rudd Labour Government’s Fair Work Act 2009 took effect. 

In recent proceedings before Fair Work Australia, the SDA agreed that this was so:

“Senior Deputy President Richards:  So it’s more the time frame was the question, what was the express reason for attempting to have the agreement signed, sealed and delivered as it were by 30th June 2009?
SDA National Industrial Officer Ms Burnley:  So that it could be processed under the WorkChoices legislation”

AMIEU Excluded

The SDA wanted the secret negotiations concluded under WorkChoices so the AMIEU could be excluded from the negotiation process.  The Fair Work Act which came into effect on 1st July 2009 gives the right to all workers to be represented by their Union in good faith bargaining. The SDA was desperate to avoid this.
SDA Ashamed to Reveal Negotiations

The SDA had hidden from its own members the fact that it was negotiating a new nation-wide agreement with Woolworths.  In fact the SDA appears to be so ashamed of what goes on in these secret negotiations, that they recently pleaded with Fair Work Australia Deputy President Richards, in the proceedings mentioned above, that the AMIEU not be given any information regarding their secret negotiations with Woolworths.  The SDA advocate Mr. Ryan pleaded that: 

“We would seek orders in the strongest possible language that prevented the AMIEU from publishing any of the material that was made available to them in any form whatsoever...” and that they had  “...extreme concerns that any material.......they would then use to denigrate the SDA and Woolworths”.

What is the SDA Afraid Of?

What is it that has been said in these secret meetings that the SDA is so afraid might be used by the AMIEU to denigrate them?
Other Unions allow workplace representatives to participate in EBA negotiations and are proud to let their membership know how they are trying to improve their members’ conditions.  Not the SDA.  They believe that knowledge of what happens in its negotiations leaves it open to denigration!

New Legislation Ignored

The SDA was desperate to avoid any AMIEU representation in these negotiations for a national agreement, allowed under the Fair Work Act, so when the Fair Work Act took effect on 1st July 2009, they ignored it and continued to negotiate with Woolworths to finalise their agreement.  Even though the AMIEU wrote to notify Woolworths in early July 2009, advising that pursuant to the Labour Government legislation the AMIEU wished to represent its members in the ongoing negotiations, it was not until 26th August 2009, when the SDA and Woolworths had already concluded their Agreement, that the AMIEU was invited to participate.

Woolworths Intransigent

The AMIEU had two meetings with Woolworths, where Woolworths made it clear that they were not prepared to remove either Victorian or Tasmanian meat room employees from the Agreement and continue to negotiate their agreement separately, nor were they prepared to alter any terms of the agreement they had reached with the SDA.

Scope Order

The AMIEU Federal Office applied to Fair Work Australia for a “Scope Order” which is new to the Fair Work Act, and which if granted would allow for the meat department to be separated from the rest of the store, as is the case currently in Victoria and Tasmania, so meat department employees could have their own agreement. The AMIEU was not successful in this application, and an appeal has been lodged this week so that the matter can be heard by a Full Bench of Fair Work Australia. These are new matters for the tribunal. We are awaiting a hearing date.

Vote on New Agreement

In the meantime, Woolworths will probably proceed to a ballot for their new SDA national agreement. Up to about 95,000 Woolworths workers around Australia will be eligible to vote.  Most of these workers will only be affected by the wage increase in the Agreement, which no doubt they will vote for.

Meat Room Employees Outnumbered

Victorian and Tasmanian meat room employees who may wish to reject the agreement and the loss of their conditions, will be overwhelmingly outvoted by workers who should have no say in conditions that do not affect them.  

Operation of Agreements

If this happens, it does not affect your agreement immediately. The AMIEU Victorian agreement will continue to operate until 26th September 2011. The SDA agreement would then take effect and operate for about 12 months.  At that stage, if the Rudd Government is returned next year and the Fair Work Act remains in place, the AMIEU will be able to represent its members at the start of the negotiations for an agreement beyond 2012.
In the meantime, Fair Work Australia will deal with the AMIEU appeal.

Questionable Priorities

It is understandable that Woolworths would wish to drop all its employees to the same level of conditions.  Unfortunately it is also not surprising that they have a willing ally in the SDA, which appears to have a greater interest in the number of members they have, and the income they collect from those members, than in the pay and conditions under which their members are employed.

See the transcript of the two days in the Fair Work Tribunal
Day One  -  Day Two