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Australia ‘Essential worker hero' shelf stackers in pay dispute with Woolworths

16:02  27 july  2021
16:02  27 july  2021 Source:   smh.com.au

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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.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Josh Cullinan, the union official who exposed the dodgy deal between Coles and the SDA union. Photo: PENNY STEPHENS. The Age. 2ND JUNE 2016 © Penny Stephens Josh Cullinan, the union official who exposed the dodgy deal between Coles and the SDA union. Photo: PENNY STEPHENS. The Age. 2ND JUNE 2016

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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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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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 exposed by an investigation by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2015-16, which also uncovered widespread underpayments at major retailers and fast food outlets including Coles, KFC and McDonald's.

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This is interesting!