On the Picket Line

Warehouse workers in Australia win contract fights

By Bob Aiken
December 27, 2021

SYDNEY — Some 1,000 warehouse workers organized by the United Workers Union at seven Toll distribution centers across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales won a new contract Nov. 17, two days after going out on an indefinite strike. They won a 3% wage increase for each of the next three years, which matches the current official rate of inflation, and agreement for 100 more permanent jobs.

Workers at the Country Road Group warehouse in Melbourne ended their 11-day strike on Nov. 22 after winning agreement for more permanent positions, and a 13.3% wage raise over four years backdated to May when their old contract expired. The 50 workers there only joined the union last year. Many are single mothers earning up to 10 Australian dollars ($7.10) an hour less than workers at other area warehouses. The strikers had organized protests outside the company’s store in Melbourne and at the city’s Fashion Week events.

Workers at the Toll warehouses supply Kmart and other stores. They had rejected earlier pay offers that would have left their wages below the rate of inflation. United Workers Union member Narelle Young said that she worked directly for Kmart for AU$32.65 an hour in 2010, before the company outsourced its warehouse operations to Toll. She and other workers were then “reemployed” at AU$17 an hour. Over 10 years her pay increased to AU$27, still way short of what she had been getting from Kmart. Starting pay at Toll warehouses will now be AU$25, while the minimum wage in Australia is just over AU$20.