Country Road strike: Why warehouse workers in Melbourne are taking industrial action

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More than 50 workers at Country Road’s distribution centre in Melbourne have begun an indefinite strike, calling for a 4% pay increase in the lead up to Christmas.

The group of warehouse staff from the Truganina distribution centre launched industrial action after Country Road turned down their request for a pay increase of roughly $1 dollar per hour. Country Road instead offered to increase their hourly rate by $0.50.

Mick Power, organiser at the United Workers Union, tells SmartCompany that Country Road’s employees are fighting for a fair wage as well as respect from their employers.

“Basically, the Country Road workers are working for a company that is extremely profitable and has become more profitable during the pandemic,” Power says.

“But they’re also [earning] just above the minimum wage, and a lot of people really cannot make ends meet.”

The United Workers Union, which represents more than 150,000 workers in Australia, said most workers were paid between $22.52 and $24.34 an hour, which is slightly above the national minimum wage of $20.33.

The union also alleges that Country Road has used intimidation tactics to deter the workers, many of whom are women from migrant backgrounds, from participating in industrial action.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, a spokesperson from Country Road Group said the business was committed to a “fair and respectful process that delivers a sustainable and beneficial outcome for all stakeholders”.

Country Road has engaged with union representatives over the past 10 months in an attempt to agree on wage increases for the next three years for its Truganina distribution centre team.

“Our offer to the team follows transparent and collaborative discussion and is 11% higher than the award rate set by the Fair Work Commission and provides a 2.7% annual pay increase for the next three years,” the spokesperson said.

“Regrettably, the UWU has responded to a fair and reasonable process by attempting to publicly discredit our brands to leverage its demands.”

Country Road rejected the union’s claims that managerial staff had intimidated team members for participating in industrial action.

“We are proud of our workplace culture and are focused on all workplace participants treating everyone fairly and with dignity and respect,” the spokesperson said.

The Melbourne-based Country Road Group reportedly received $25 million in JobKeeper subsidies from the federal government and is owned by South African retail group Woolworths Holdings Limited, which also distributes Mimco, Trenery, Witchery and Politix.

In the 52 weeks to June 27, 2021, Woolworths Holdings Limited reported a profit before tax of approximately $450 million — an increase of 260% on the previous year.

Power says workers are arguing for a pay rise on the basis that they earn significantly less than other workers in the logistics and distribution centres.

The strike, which began at 12:01am Thursday, is expected to affect Country Road Group’s retail and online sales in the lead up to the busy Christmas period.

“It’s an indefinite strike so It will go for as long as the members want it to, which largely depends on what the company does,” Power says.

According to the United Workers Union, about half of the warehouse’s employees are participating in the strike.

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