Unilever, the multinational corporation behind Streets ice cream, is attempting to end its enterprise agreement with workers at its Minto factory in Sydney. The company behind popular ice cream brands including Paddle Pops and Magnum is trying to cut the wages of its 145 workers by 46%.
Unilever claims that the changes are needed to “enhance the competitiveness and viability of the factory in the longer term”. But Unilever is already extremely wealthy, reporting a net profit of $3.58 billion for the six months up to June 30 this year.
The NSW secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, Steve Murphy highlighted the detrimental impact such a huge wage cut would have on the workforce saying “They’re worried about the effect on their family, they’re worried about what their future is going to look like. One person even wrote that they’re worried about whether or not their family would be able to stay together if their pay was cut by 46%.”
In addition to the impact on the Streets workers themselves, an attack of this scale has ramifications for all workers. If big companies like Unilever are allowed to get away with this sort of behaviour then other companies will soon be scrambling to follow suit.
The union has called for a boycott of Streets products over the summer but much more needs to be done. While a boycott could be used as a way to draw a broader layer of support into the dispute, on its own it will only have a very limited impact on the company.
The industrial laws are clearly stacked in favour of the employers, there is no way to win if we stick to their rules. The union movement needs to mobilise en masse to target Unilever, shutting down their plants and offices with pickets and occupations. This is the only way to force them to back down.
By Isobel Orford