Coles in hot water over new collective agreement

by Chloe Taylor09 Oct 2015
A Coles supermarket employee has taken legal action to stop an employment agreement between the company and the union representing retail workers.

Duncan Hart – the employee who lodged the claim – claimed that the agreement would put tens of thousands of workers at a financial loss.

Hart lodged an appeal with the Fair Work Commission (FWC), according to the ABC, asking it to reconsider its approval of the enterprise bargaining agreement.

The agreement in question would cover almost 80,000 employees around Australia.

Negotiated between Coles, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and other unions, the agreement would establish a higher hourly base rate for supermarket staff but cut penalty rates.

Hart reportedly argued that a significant number of Coles employees would be worse off under the newly agreed agreement than if they continued to be paid under the award.

Hart’s appeal is reported to centre around research by Joshua Cullinan, an official in the National Tertiary Education Union who conducted the analysis as a personal project.

Cullinan voiced concern earlier this year about the fates of casual workers under the proposed agreement, prompting the FWC to request the agreement be altered.

Cullinan and Hart both argue that these changes failed to address the issue of Cole’s permanent employees.

Employment legislation states that any employee covered by an enterprise bargaining agreement must be better off than they would have been under the industry’s award.

Since Hart’s appeal was lodged, the commission has asked Coles to provide Cullinan with rosters from three of its stores, which Cullinan used to calculate employees’ hypothetical pay under both circumstances.

He found that two-thirds of employees in one of the stores would be worse off by a total off $55,000 annually.

“On a basic arithmetic that we can see there is about $60,000 if all the workers at Northcote that were adults that were ongoing, $60,000 just at that store for a year,” said Cullinan.

“We could translate that to $40 [million] or 50 million a year in wages not paid to workers compared to if they had of been working under the award.

“Any analysis by a union should have been able to identify these problems, they are bread and butter issues, and every union should be endeavouring to ensure that all their members are better off under the agreement.

“I can't imagine a union that considers itself a union and considers itself doing a good job could reach an agreement that has that level of deficiency.”

Coles provided the FWC with sample rosters during the bargaining process, however Cullinan claims that they were not representative of typical permanent workers’ hours as they were lacking in weekend and evening shifts.

“Unfortunately, some of the issues that we've now exposed at Coles simply weren't brought to the attention of the Fair Work Commission and they should have been,” Cullinan stated.

“And so if the commission has made a judgment based on information that wasn't provided, that would be one way.

“The other way was just a flaw in the system which allowed for this agreement to be navigated through the commission and made law when really it should have been held up much earlier.”

Coles has argued that Cullinan is “simply using Hart as a vehicle to pursue his own personal agenda,” and therefore Hart’s appeal should be rejected.

Earlier this year, Fairfax Media revealed that the union pays Coles up to $5 million each year in “administrative costs” to deduct union fees from workers’ pay packets.

A hearing deciding whether Hart should be given leave to pursue his appeal will be held next week.


  • by Johnny 9/10/2015 12:41:09 PM

    Good on him. The whole point of the system is to protect workers. These unskilled workers often don't have the skills to know they would be worse off. Simple maths could work this out, as most shop workers work overtime or at bad times of the night.

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