Toll offer rejected as workers keep striking

NUW vows to keep striking against Toll after workers rejected the company's pay offer

Toll offer rejected as workers keep striking
Toll offer rebuffed as workers keep striking
By Brad Gardner | July 13, 2012

The strike against Toll outside a Coles-owned warehouse in Melbourne is set to drag on amid claims of underhanded union tactics.

Some of Toll's employees working at the Coles Somerton warehouse rejected the transport and logistics company’s pay offer yesterday

National Union of Workers (NUW) organiser Godfrey Moase says the company’s offer, which includes annual pay increases of 4 percent for three years, failed to address key demands.

The NUW wants the new agreement to include rostered days off, shift loading payments, the ability for casuals to transition to permanent positions after six months, and right of entry provisions.

Coles outsourced the running of its Somerton warehouse to Toll, and the NUW wants Toll employees to receive the same conditions as Coles workers at other warehouses.

Moase says more than 200 workers voted against Toll’s offer and will now continue their industrial action.

"We weren’t surprised by the outcome of their vote," he says.

"What happens now is we keep standing outside the warehouse."

However, Toll General Manager of Corporate Affairs Andrew Ethell claims only about 150 of the company's 600-strong workers attended the NUW vote yesterday and that an unspecified "large number" of people who took part were not Toll employees.

"Clearly the union has shown it is unable or unwilling to conduct a fair vote which further undermines the credibility of their claims," he says.

"Toll does not recognise the validity of the vote or its outcome."

Ethell says the ballot did not meet a requirement for the Australian Electoral Commission to supervise a vote of all Toll's 600 warehouse staff.

He says Toll wants a staff-wide vote within the next two weeks so all workers can have a say on Toll’s offer "rather than letting a select few union members decide".

Ethell says workers are committing an "illegal blockade" by preventing anyone from entering or leaving the warehouse. Furthermore, he claims the majority of Toll workers want to return to work.

"The illegal blockade is preventing employees from attending work and earning money for themselves and their families," he says.

"Toll does not tolerate the dangerous and illegal actions being taken by the union and its supporters. No one should be denied access to their own place of work."

Toll has gone to Fair Work Australia to ask it to prevent the union from blocking access to the warehouse. Ethell says Toll is not asking the industrial umpire to end the strike.

However, Moase has disputed the company’s claims the NUW has formed a blockade. He says Toll has not sent any trucks to the warehouse since the first day of the protest.

"As far as I’m concerned, it’s democratic and peaceful," Moase says of the industrial action.

He estimates it will cost Toll about $5 million to meet all of the union’s claims, which include shift loading for the entire shift of an employee who works in the afternoon or night.

Moase says the NUW wants Toll to provide paid-for meetings between employees and their union and to allow NUW representatives to distribute information to warehouse staff.

Although Coles has not intervened in the matter, the NUW wants a meeting with it and Toll. Moase says the supermarket giant has a lot of power because it owns the warehouse and has contracted work out to Toll.

"Coles has great power in this circumstance. As any Spider-Man fan would tell you, with great power comes great responsibility," Moase says.

Toll earlier this week said it was happy to allow right of entry provisions but would not allow NUW representatives to "come and go wherever they want, whenever they want".

The company says the existing agreement pays about 30 percent above the Award rate.

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