Australia ‘Essential worker hero' shelf stackers in pay dispute with Woolworths
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Supermarket giant Woolworths has significantly cut the take-home pay of up to 1800 nightfill workers in a move that has prompted ongoing workplace disputes at its Victorian stores.
Shelf stackers in Victoria and Tasmania have been moved to shifts starting mid-afternoon, attracting far lower penalty rates than they previously earned from shifts starting at 11pm. The latter shifts could be paid as much as double time.
Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said the union would launch dozens of cases in the Fair Work Commission to challenge the cuts, which would leave some workers as much as $500 a week, or $25,000 a year, worse off through the loss of penalty rates and allowances. He estimated that would be worth up to $30 million a year for the workers concerned.
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Supermarket giant Woolworths is putting all aerosol deodorant products behind locked cabinets in the Northern Territory to help reduce inhalant abuse among young people. Chroming is a form of volatile substance abuse involving the inhalation of solvents such as deodorants or other household chemicals to get high.Health professionals have long been concerned about the practice because it can lead to permanent brain damage.Last month, Coles pulled all aerosol deodorants from the shelves of its Northern Territory stores.
But a Woolworths spokeswoman said the change in shift times brought its Victorian and Tasmanian stores "in line with our approach in every other state and territory".
"The move is designed to improve stock availability, particularly during evening trading hours, when a growing number of customers choose to shop," the spokeswoman said.
"We also expect to see benefits for our eCommerce customers, as our personal shoppers will be able to pick orders from better stocked shelves during the evening shift."
The company disputed the combined size of the claimed loss of wages but did not comment directly on it.
As part of the dispute, up to 70 nightfill workers refused to work new rosters that attract lower penalty rates. Instead, they have been turning up to work at their old rostered time and were then nearly all "locked out" and prevented from doing their shifts, Mr Cullinan said. Some were replaced with labour hire, he said.
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Supermarket giant Woolworths is locking away all aerosol deodorants in the Northern Territory to help reduce inhalant theft and abuse among young people.The supermarket giant is trialling secure cabinets in the health and beauty aisle at its Casuarina store, in Darwin's northern suburbs.
Woolworths disputed that the workers were locked out, saying they were consulted "to ensure the transition to new rosters was as smooth as possible".
In a letter to the union, a Woolworths manager said if staff did not turn up at their new rostered time from last week, "we will be not paying these team members, and they will be sent home".
One worker at a Melbourne store, who asked not to be named, said he expected to lose $400 to $500 a week from the changes. He said during the pandemic the nightfill staff had worked incredibly hard and were upset by the changes.
"There's a lot of frustration the way it was carried out," he said. He's now refusing to work the new roster.
Mr Cullinan said the workers were "essential worker heroes" who had kept shelves stocked throughout the pandemic. Workers were called into meetings in April this year to be told their rosters would change from June. This was later pushed back to mid-July.
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Mr Cullinan said the workers had a legal right to challenge the changed roster under the workplace agreement and not to be required to work the new hours until the dispute was resolved. He believes Woolworths' threat not to pay people involved in the dispute was unlawful.
"Many workers cannot work those hours," Mr Cullinan said. "Many other workers have had to acquiesce to these coercive threats of Woolworths. Some have had to leave employment with Woolworths."
The workers had won large increases to penalty rates from January 2019 for working overnight after a new workplace agreement was struck with Woolworths.
Previous agreements between Woolworths and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) had left many workers - in particular those working nights - paid well below the minimum wages of the award, the wages safety net.
Those underpayments at Woolworths were exposedby The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2015-16, which including .
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Bumper list of coronavirus alerts for Sydney including 11 Woolworths .
Eleven Woolworths stores, mainly across the Covid-ravaged south-west, were on the list, as well as six Aldi supermarkets, three Coles and two CostCo. With non-essential retail closed, grocery stores have become Ground Zero for people being exposed to Covid, with two Australia Post branches also affected. More dates were added for Woolworths in Bankstown, which was exposed to the virus over 14 days by a number of infected customers and staff.Woolworths Bass Hill, Auburn, Campbelltown, Campbelltown Market Fair, Campsie, Canterbury, Fairfield Heights, Gregory Hills, Lidcombe and Wetherill Park were also listed.