SYDNEY — More than 350 workers at the Coles distribution center at Smeaton Grange in southwest Sydney are picketing daily, fighting a company lockout. Coles is one of the main supermarket chains in Australia, taking in almost 1 billion Australian dollars ($719 million) in profit last year.
The workers, members of the United Workers Union, had begun a 24-hour walkout Nov. 19, as part of negotiations over a new contract, when the company announced they were locking them out until February.
Workers on the spirited picket line told Militant worker-correspondents Nov. 20 they plan to maintain their protest, turning up at the gates for their regular shifts, until Coles agrees to resume operations.
They said they were determined to stick together. They had continued working through the government-imposed lockdowns for the COVID-19 pandemic — as they were deemed “essential workers” — and also through thick smoke from nearby forest fires earlier this year.
The bosses have slated the Smeaton Grange warehouse for closure in 2023, when they plan to open a new, automated facility a few miles away. Workers are demanding a 5.5% pay raise, and a larger severance pay package with the closure. They want jobs and retraining at the new warehouse, which the picketers expect will have about 100 workers.
Picketers we spoke to said they are also fighting speedup and threats against workers who don’t “keep up.”