Late last night Woolworths notified it’s Wyong Distribution Centre workforce, who had been forced to be on strike since last Friday, they would be locking the door indefinitely.
The move comes after workers angered the company by taking legal industrial action for 24 hours on July 24, in a bid to win wage equality with workers just one hour away in Sydney. Workers chose only a short stoppage to not interrupt supply during the pandemic, clearly not a concern shared by Woolworths.
The lockdown by Woolworths was already causing shortages in stores across the Central Coast in the last week, so this latest intimidation move is likely to worsen a deepening crisis for the locals who rely on the supermarket giant.
Workers were ready to make a deal on Thursday, but Woolworths wasn’t interested in going even halfway towards wage equality. The company barely improved its offer, with only a 0.6% increase on wages, well below a meaningful move towards the 16% needed to be on par with those doing the same job in Sydney.
Woolworths wouldn’t even let members vote on a deal, attempting to bully worker representatives at a meeting into endorsing the deal without member support. This is highly unusual, with most agreements requiring the endorsement of union members before they can move ahead.
When representatives insisted workers need to vote on the deal, Woolworths refused, and immediately made moves to lockout workers indefinitely.
Woolies intimidation tactics have so far backfired, with workers experiencing a huge outpouring of community support. Local members of parliament from across the spectrum have been joining the workers on the picket line, and members of the community have been delivering free coffees and supplies.
The original lockout was labeled “a mean‑spirited act of industrial intimidation by a huge corporate entity against hardworking people on the Central Coast” in a speech in NSW Parliament by Deputy Opposition Leader Yasmin Catley on Tuesday night.
Quotes attributable to a Woolworths Wyong Distribution Centre worker:
“Woolworths think they can intimidate us into giving in but the claim is reasonable and fair and workers are 100% prepared to continue fighting.
“We were pretty close to being able to take something to the members, and then Woolies slammed their laptops shut and locked us out. We feel totally disrespected and frustrated.
“The community is telling us that Woolies is a total disgrace. They’ve been supporting us and it’s been fantastic.”
Quotes attributable to United Workers Union Logistics Director Matt Toner:
“An indefinite lockout is an aggressive and totally unnecessary move. It’s a disgraceful way to treat essential workers.
“Woolies has spat the dummy like a petulant child, and in doing so has placed supply into their stores at risk in a troubling time for the community. It’s time Woolworths treat their essential workers and the community with the respect they deserve.”
July 24: Workers take legal industrial action for 24 hours to mitigate disruption to the community
July 25: Woolworths locks out workers until July 29, leaving shelves bare.
July 29: Workers and Woolworths meet. Workers remain on strike in the hopes of reaching a deal with Woolworths.
July 30: Workers and Woolworths meet again. Woolworths demand union delegates endorse a deal without member support. When they refuse, Woolworths locks out workers indefinitely.
United Workers Union members have been calling for:
Wage increases that place Wyong workers on a level playing field with Sydney Distribution Centres.
The ratio of 80% permanent to 20% casual staff and conversion to permanent to be based on length of service.
Woolworths to stop using unsafe pick rates.
Improved classification structure – currently two people can be on two different grades and pay rates but do the same work every day.
Woolworths Wyong workers have been negotiating since March 2020. Pick rates are the number of items a worker is expected to move every hour.
The average difference (depending on the classification level) is between 8% and 16% per hour. This is based on the average of the three Woolworths Sydney Distribution Centres compared with the wages at Wyong Distribution Centre.
Woolworths supermarkets have seen their revenue grow by 8.6 % as of mid-June 2020 and up 10.7 % in the previous quarter.
United Workers Union Media Contact: 1300 898 633, [email protected]
Yasmin Catley MP Media Contact: Tom Harris-Brassil 0401 834 924
Yasmin Catley is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Jobs, Shadow Minister for Building Reform and Property, and Member for Swansea.