WOOLWORTHS/SAFEWAY National Agreement Update 3

12 March 2010

Secret Deal

As reported in the previous two newsletters Woolworths Management and Joe de Bruyn, the Federal Secretary of the SDA, with other senior SDA officials, have secretly negotiated a National Woolworths Agreement to cover all non-salaried employees of Woolworths/Safeway supermarkets around Australia.

This Agreement is also to cover Victorian meat room employees when their own agreement expires in September 2011.

Sequence of Events

Many Safeway AMIEU members are asking how this could happen.  The sequence of events is as follows:

  • 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 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

This means that very soon AMIEU members in meat rooms in Safeway/Woolworths will be asked to vote for a new agreement to cover them.  This agreement is of no benefit to you.  However as the SDA and Woolworths have intended since they first entered their secret negotiations, your vote will have no effect. 

The thousands of other Woolworths workers covered by the Agreement will vote yes to obtain the only pay rise on offer.  Most will not know or will not care that in doing so they are also voting to remove your conditions, which you have retained and defended for so long.
Process from Here

As far as you are concerned, 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.  At that point, if the current industrial relations legislation is still in place, AMIEU members will be able to authorise their Union to negotiate a new agreement on your behalf. 

On 26th September 2011 you will be asked to elect to either keep your current conditions until 30th June 2012 (ie about 9 months) and receive a wage increase for a butcher of $28.29, or for a further increase of $36.39 give up 75% penalty rates on Saturday, 50% penalty rates on Sunday, 50% penalty rates for working after 6pm Monday to Friday, and casual loading reduced from 25% to 20%, and agree that you can be rostered to work at any time the Company determines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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.

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.  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 Safeway meat room workers.

Union Membership

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. 

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.

For advice or any further information contact Union Organisers:
Laurie Burley 0418 103627,
Bob Savine 0417 328854,
or ring the Union office on 03 9662 3766.