Wage increases may have been won, but job insecurity is pushing us into unpaid overtime.
It’s been a victorious week for the unions, and the holiday season to boot. We can now eat ice cream in peace again and Woolworths isn’t cancelling Christmas.
The unions have managed to force Unilever’s hand to withdraw their application to terminate the enterprise agreement. As HRM previously reported, the unions launched a “Streets-Free Summer” campaign boycotting the makers of some of our favorite frozen treats. An in-principle agreement between the unions and Unilever has reportedly ensured the Minto manufacturing plant will stay open, and that pay and conditions will remain the same. Sally McManus, secretary of the ACTU says of the win, “Our trade union movement in Australia is alive and kicking. We are back and we are intending to use whatever is necessary to defend the rights of working people.”
Over at Woolworths, workers recently threatened a pre-Christmas strike in order to drive up wages. Union representative Dario Mujkic says workers were not only after a wage increase of up to $2 an hour, they also wanted stronger protection and greater job security following an announcement that the distribution centre in Broadmeadows would be closing due to a new automated process. “We have no control over the future but we want to make sure members are not being left behind,” says Mujkic.
The supermarket chain caved into demands, and over 2000 workers in Victoria and NSW have been awarded an annual wage increase of about 4 per cent, reportedly twice the national average. This isn’t the only area where the unions have scored a victory. The National Union of Workers have also been in talks with Woolworths over the treatment of farm hands in its supply chain. Many farm workers are apparently earning around half the minimum wage, and the new agreement could see their pay packets swell by more than $10 per hour.
Mujkic says both wins are a sign of good things to come. “If workers organise collectively, they can still win and still win big. It’s not a case of the market setting wage increases, it’s actually workers setting the wage for themselves.”
We’re working overtime
Despite these recent victories, Australian workers are reportedly being stiffed out of cash to the tune of $130b in free overtime. Recent research by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found that workers are doing approximately five hours in unpaid out-of-hours work per week.
Research director Jim Stanford says, that overtime constitutes, “Everything from going in early or staying late at work, to working through breaks, working through lunch, taking work home, answering emails in the middle of the night.”
Stanford says the figure has risen by half an hour since last year’s findings.
The reason for all these extra hours? Stanford says it’s a reflection of our job insecurity. “People are staying late because they want to keep their employer happy, they want to show they’ve got a good work ethic, they’re hoping that they’ll be able to keep their jobs,” he says.
According to Stanford, underemployment rates (currently 5.4 per cent) and the insecure nature of casual and gig work means Australians are going to greater lengths to remain in gainful full-time employment.
There is no single solution to what is a multi-faceted problem, says Stanford.
“We need more job creation, good jobs not temporary or insecure jobs. We also need to rebuild the institutions and the regulations that support workers in trying to get a fair deal from their employer.”
Better understand employee rights and how they are managed within the organisation with AHRI’s eLearning module on the Fair Work Act.