Coles and Woolworths employees represented by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) went on a two hour national strike on Saturday to secure better wages and working conditions.
Key demands include introducing a base rate of $29 per hour, measures to protect workers from abuse and threats, job security for casual workers, the right to a minimum shift length and the elimination of junior rates, trainee rates “and any other poverty wage rates.” According to RAFFWU, both chains have refused to “offer anything on any claim at the bargaining table.”
“Coles Supermarkets and Woolworths Supermarkets workers were the essential worker heroes of our pandemic,” RAFFWU said in a press release.
“They turned up to work throughout the entire pandemic, put on the frontline and the employers were slow to put in place safety measures. They got sick, their families got sick. Their loved ones were put in harm’s way while Coles and Woolworths made mega profits.”
This strike marks the first national supermarket strike in Australian history.
RAFFWU members also implemented thirteen bans on Friday, which included a ban on cleaning up vomit or bodily fluids, cleaning the manager’s toilet or crushing cardboard boxes. Coles said that it would not pay workers who engaged in the ban and has threatened to stand them down, while Woolworths has said that they would continue to pay workers who took part.
The decision to engage in industrial action comes amidst the worst cost of living crisis in generations, with Coles and Woolworths employees being paid base rates as low as $12 to $26 per hour. Coles and Woolworths recently boasted annual profits of $1.1 billion and $1.62 billion respectively.
Approximately a thousand Coles and Woolworths employees belong to RAFFWU. A much larger portion of employees belong to the controversial Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which has backed agreements that underpay the workers that they represent and opposed same-sex marriage. RAFFWU was founded in direct opposition to the SDA in 2016, and this strike action represents a part of the wider struggle within the union movement.
RAFFWU has set up a fund to support workers on strike, which has raised almost $19,000 at the time of writing. You can donate to the fund here.