Woolworths/Safeway March 2008

March 2008

The Safeway agreement will expire in September 2008.  The Union will attempt to negotiate a new agreement which protects current conditions and penalty rates, and increases wages to offset cost of living increases.

Safeway/Woolworths, one of the most successful retailers in Australia is continually announcing record sales and profits and should be ready to share some of that profit with its workforce, not just the company executives.  But they will probably attempt to increase their profitability at the expense of the meat department employees.

We are all aware that the employees outside the meat room, and inside the meat room in some other States, have lost a lot of their conditions.  The SDA Agreement applies in Woolworths stores in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The SDA unfortunately has followed the line of placating the employer and its drive for greater profits at the expense of the workforce. Employees covered by the SDA Agreements have a greatly increased span of hours and a higher proportion of casual workers. It would be   foolish to think that the Company does not wish to impose similar agreements on the meat staff in Victoria.  
Woolworths/Safeway has openly stated that they would prefer to deal with the SDA and have an SDA Agreement than to deal with the AMIEU in Victoria.  The SDA has also told us that it is their ultimate ambition to be the only Union operating in Victorian supermarkets.

To identify the strengths and weaknesses that will be brought to bear in the next round of negotiations we have to learn from mistakes made elsewhere in Australia.
There are three parties to an agreement:
1.    the Company
2.    the Union with coverage, representing
3.    the Employees covered.

In Western Australia a couple of years ago the meat room employees at Woolworths lost their coverage to the SDA.  During the life of an AMIEU agreement, vacancies occurring in the meat department were offered to SDA members on the grocery floor.  New employees were covertly discouraged from membership in the AMIEU.    This resulted in a situation where about one third of the meat room workers were members of the AMIEU, one third were in the SDA and one third were not in any Union.  

The Company then refused to deal with the AMIEU because of its reluctance to give up the meat room conditions.  An agreement was reached between Woolworths and the SDA and put to a vote of the entire workforce, not just those employed in the meat room.  The employees outside the meat room had long ago lost their conditions so that the superior conditions in the meat room meant nothing to them.  A united meat room vote is still outnumbered by the vote in the rest of the store.

Those employed in meat rooms in Victoria need to understand what has happened elsewhere and be pro-active as meat workers so that the same thing does not happen here.  

The first targets of the Company will be your span of hours, with the penalties that apply on weekends and night, more casualisation, the ability to replace packers with juniors during school holidays, and the introduction of junior rates of pay for cabinet attendants.

This is not something unfamiliar to you. All you have to do is look out into the store and see what conditions apply there.
Workers in the meat department who are not members of the AMIEU are in fact undermining your conditions by altering the membership percentages.  Those non-members who take the benefits won by those members who came before them will cause the loss of all conditions that we take for granted.

When new workers start in the meat room they should be encouraged to become members of the Meat Workers Union so that the current conditions can be protected.  We must we must stay united and determined not to pass on to the next generation something that is inferior to what we enjoyed.

1.    The Company is my friend. It will look after me.
What conditions or pay increases have the Company ever initiated?  NONE
How many proposals for improvements in employee conditions  has the Company fought against in the past?  ALL.

2.    If  I don’t like what they do to me I will leave.
They have done it to the rest of the staff in the store and in every other State.  There will still be weak people doing the job for lesser conditions.
3.    I want to advance in the Company
Will you do whatever you are told by those in authority? Watch out for superiors willing to exploit compliant staff.
4.    I am going to retire soon. 
You got the best of the meat agreements - stuff the rest. What about those who come after you, the next generation, your own children?  Don’t they deserve decent pay and conditions?
5.    I have a conscientious objection to being in the Union.
The Union is you and your work mates.  Do you object to joining them in a fight to preserve your entitlements?

Decent pay and conditions are your right, not a privilege. Those people who choose not to be a part of our collective in the meat department are actively supporting the Company and the SDA in their efforts to undermine conditions which will affect their workmates’ quality of life, and ability to support their families.

Meat room workers do not want to become part of the general body of the store where they can be shifted from the meat room to any part of the store at the whim of the Manager and where the SDA span of hours can be forced upon them.

All members of previous committees negotiating the Safeway Agreement have emphasized that they are meat workers.  They are proud to be meat workers, proud of the fact that they are highly skilled workers, qualified in packing, wrapping and cutting up products, and     believe  they are entitled to proper conditions.
We must prepare over the next few months so that we do not give up what we have won.  

Negotiations are scheduled to commence in July 2008. The Union will follow its normal course and form a negotiating committee comprising Union Officials and a representative group of Safeway members.

Any members interested in being on the Safeway negotiating committee should notify their Organiser Laurie Burley (0418 103627) or Bob Savine (0417 328854), or the Union Office.