Blockade of Coles’ supply chain continues at Toll despite court injunction against union

A legal impasse continues after the blockade that has stopped Coles delivering food from its major Victorian warehouse for a week remains in place, even after a Supreme Court injunction demanding the picket line be lifted.

The blockade at the Coles National Distribution Centre in Somerton began a week ago and has stopped all access to the site for the 300 trucks a day which normally go in and out.

Workers at the distribution centre want the same pay and conditions as Coles warehouse workers at other sites around Australia, where employment is not outsourced to a labour hire and logistics firm such as Toll.

Justice Anne Ferguson yesterday granted the Toll Group an injunction ordering 25 individuals, including some of its employees on the picket line and five officials from the National Union of Workers, to end the blockade.

Justice Ferguson ordered the union by 9am today to ”send via Twitter and Facebook and email” a message to members saying, “Trucks and people must not be prevented from entering or leaving the Toll site”.

But members of the blockade who are not members of the NUW or who are not named in the injunction do not appear to be following the order.

National Union of Workers spokeswoman Emma Kerin told SmartCompany this morning that the “only thing” the union was focused on was trying to organise a meeting with Toll for the afternoon.

“Officials of the union have been injuncted but there are still people down there today,” Kerin says.

“The union has done everything it needs to in order to abide by the injunctions, we have complied with the order and officials of the union cannot blockade. But if there is still people down there, there is still people down there.”

Toll Group spokesman Christopher Whitefield said the “illegal blockade” was preventing employees from getting back to work and earning a living.

“Our priority now is to take all necessary steps to ensure this happens as quickly as possible but we will not be taking any action that endangers safety,” said Whitefield.

“We are relying on the union leadership to ensure all union members and supporters behave appropriately and legally. Then we will work out when best to start accessing the site.”

Whitefield called on union leadership to “take responsibility” and ensure the blockade stopped.

M+K Lawyers principal Andrew Douglas told SmartCompany the injunction would make no difference to the blockade because non-union members were participating in it and so an order against the NUW and select employees would not bring an end to the picket line.

“We will see fresh people on that picket line and they will have to get fresh orders again and again,” he says.

Douglas warns there is a problem across Victoria with “hire a picket line”, where people participating in a blockade are near impossible to stop as they almost have to be followed home to find out where they live and have an order served on them.

“We are looking at a very intractable dispute,” he says.

Business groups have condemned the continued blockade with Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox warning that the union and its members have maintained an unlawful blockade.

“Companies should not need to go through lengthy and costly court proceedings in order for unions to comply with the law,” says Willox.

“Unions and workers have many rights and benefits under workplace laws, but they also have responsibilities. One such responsibility is to act lawfully.”


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