Chemist Warehouse workers in Melbourne and Brisbane walked off the job for two weeks in March as part of their fight for better wages and job security.
The National Union of Workers (NUW) – who represent the pickers and packers at the sites – explained that their members were being paid around 25% less than other warehouse workers.
The company used 75% labour hire and casual staff to pit workers against each other, only offering shifts to those who worked at break-neck speeds. Workers also complained about a culture of bullying, and that sexual harassment was not taken seriously.
The strike affected sites at Somerton, Preston and Eagle Farm. Solid pickets were mounted at the biggest site in Somerton while disruption was also caused at the other two locations. This was enough to see shelves in a number of Chemist Warehouse stores run bare.
The company used violence to try to intimidate the workers, with thuggish security guards driving cars through pickets injuring several people. But this didn’t dent the morale of the workers who stood firm against this company and its owners, who are among the top 100 richest people in Australia.
In the end, the workers won an 18.75% pay rise over four years, plus the ability to work full time rather than just 4 days a week. Managers will now be forced to undertake sexual harassment training.
Most importantly, the casual labour hire staff who were on strike will get permanent jobs, and a new clause will see all workers convert to permanent after 6 months. A number of other improvements were also secured.
While the pay rises won’t bring the workers up to the level of other warehouses, the winning of more permanent jobs should mean a stronger base from which to build the union in the coming years.
The challenge ahead is for the union expand its reach in the warehouses, while also helping the workers in the Chemist Warehouse stores to unionise.
A joint strike of warehouse and retail staff would bring this company to heel much quicker and force them to concede the top quality wages and conditions that these workers deserve.
By Socialist Party reporters