In a fantastic show of determination, workers at the Coles Smeaton Grange Distribution Centre voted down a non-union agreement on Friday. The vote comes after eight weeks locked out without pay.
This is the fifth time United Workers Union (UWU) workers at Smeaton Grange have rejected the conditional offer put by Coles. They are fighting for job security, an improved redundancy package, and an end to victimisation threats and bullying on the job.
Workers are particularly angry at Clause 9 of the Conditional Offer put on 30 December that would allow Coles to discipline workers for participating in pickets during the dispute. They want it removed.
Under Clause 9, workers are subject to disciplinary action including “first and final warnings” and may be targeted and given the sack, denying them a redundancy payout.
Coles’ attempt to force a non-union endorsed agreement brought widespread condemnation from across the union movement.
Astonishingly the UWU union leadership took an unheard of “neutral” position to the non-union agreement. But workers at Smeaton Grange saw the move by Coles bosses as an open attempt to undermine the strength of the union and successfully campaigned hard for a No vote.
The majority No vote puts the lie to Coles boss Matt Swindells’ desperate last minute claim, that the No vote was, “a minority running their agenda”.
Shamefully, as the vote got under way, the UWU leadership also put around an “information video” explaining (read “selling”) Coles’ offer, and how to vote.
In spite of Coles’ attempts to starve them out, a majority of the workers of Smeaton Grange have now rejected Coles’ miserly deal five times running over the past nine weeks.
Action is needed from the UWU leaders to get behind the UWU members at Smeaton Grange and provide the financial and political support necessary to win the dispute.
A properly resourced strike fund, backed by a levy on UWU members at other workplaces, would make an enormous difference as the Smeaton Grange workers face down the Coles bosses.
Coles can be beaten. In 2012, the NUW (the forerunner of the UWU in warehouses) organised solidarity action at Goulburn and Eastern Creek distribution centres in support of Coles workers in Somerton, Victoria. Solidarity action can increase the pressure on Coles.
A day of action has been called for this Friday 22 January at the Eastern Creek distribution centre.
By Matt Meagher