Coles and Woolworths workers set to strike: What you need to know

Frontline staff are demanding better pay and increased security.

In the coming days, hundreds of Coles and Woolworths employees will strike in an effort to force changes in working conditions for supermarket workers. As news of the staff stoppages spreads across social media, here are important details about the planned industrial action.

What you need to know

  • On Friday 6 October, some Coles and Woolworths workers will stop performing many of their usual tasks, such as changing price stickers, collecting trolleys, packing online orders, crushing cardboard and cleaning toilets.

  • On Saturday 7 October, between 10am and midday, and on Tuesday 10 October between 9pm and 11pm, workers will walk off the job at stores in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, WA, ACT and SA.

  • The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) is demanding: a minimum wage increase, changes to wages for junior, apprentice and disabled staff, improved casual worker conditions, and better security for frontline workers.

  • The strikes are not expected to cause any major disruption to customers, according to both Woolworths and Coles.

Coles and Woolworths signs
Coles and Woolworths staff are planning industrial action over working conditions. Source: Getty

🗣️ What they said

RAFFWU secretary Josh Cullinan: "This is the first national strike of supermarket workers in Australian history. These are essential workers who are on minimum wage, have unsafe workplaces and insecure jobs."

Woolworths: "We have been in regular contact with RAFFWU bargaining representatives and an initial bargaining meeting has already occurred. We have a long history of bargaining in good faith with our team and will continue to do so. However, we acknowledge and respect the right of team members to take protected industrial action."

Coles: "We are working collaboratively with our team members and bargaining representatives on a proposal for a new Supermarket Enterprise Agreement... Coles is committed to delivering an outcome that balances the needs of our team members, the sustainability of our business and ensures we can continue to deliver great value and experiences for our customers."

🤔 Why should I care?

Mr Cullinan says young staff under 20 are "paid a pittance" and supermarkets are unsafe workplaces that are akin to "crime scenes".

"You have young women in their first jobs having to experience sexual harassment," he told Yahoo. "There is an incident at every store every month. We need a vastly different approach — it needs to be taken seriously."

The union is calling for a security guard at all stores nationwide daily from midday to protect staff as well as monitor for shoplifters. "We had that during the pandemic, we need that reinforced," Mr Cullinan said.

🔢 The story in numbers

Mr Cullinan said up to 1,000 members would be going on strike across Australia, with the number of employees varying from one per supermarket to 30 or 40 at more unionised stores.

Woolworths says 280 workers out of the 132,000 are RAFFWU members eligible to take part in the strike.

Coles added that of its 120,000-strong workforce, around 450 are RAFFWU members, working at 11 stores nationwide.

Coles employees and customers at supermarket checkouts
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union says strikes are needed because Coles and Woolworths workers 'are on minimum wage, have unsafe workplaces and insecure jobs'. Source: Getty

It's hard to believe, but…

It is legal under Australian industrial law for people under 20 to be paid 45 per cent of an adult's wage.

"You can have a 15-year-old paid as little as $11 or $12 per hour," Mr Cullinan said, while disabled workers can be paid under $10 hourly.

⏭️ So what next?

The first strike will take place at Woolies in Broken Hill on Thursday from 12pm to 2pm where Mr Cullinan said "most of the store will be involved" but it's up to each worker.

Striking workers will not be paid for the two hours during the strike, but the union says it will make up their lost wages. Employees who don't perform all duties as part of Friday's partial work bans will miss out on pay, Coles warned in a staff memo.

Mr Cullinan said if the supermarket giants still don't come to the table, RAFFWU would consider further strikes over the hectic Christmas period.

Only workers who have appointed RAFFWU as their bargaining representative are able to participate in the proposed strikes. "As a result, we would not expect customers or our stores to be materially impacted," says Woolworths.

🗞️ For more about Aussie supermarkets...

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Reads 'news you need to know' with a glowing green map of Australia on a purple background.