Aldi Employees Australian Workplace Agreements

About this Item
SubjectsTrade Unions; Wages and Salaries; Industrial Disputes; Foreign Investment; Retail Trading
SpeakersGibson Mr Paul
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 7046

    Mr PAUL GIBSON (Blacktown) [5.23 p.m.]: Aldi operates many stores and warehouses in Sydney, including one at Minchinbury. Many of my constituents work in the Aldi warehouse where they are currently employed under Australian workplace agreements [AWAs]. Some of these AWAs have now expired and as a result Aldi, at the instigation of the Federal Government and Prime Minister John Howard, is pursuing employees to sign new agreements. Some employees have decided that they do not want to sign the proposed AWAs but feel intimidated and pressured into signing as Aldi stated in a letter of 8 March 2004, which is signed by Matthew Russell, warehouse director, and Stefan Kopp, managing director, that a consequence of not signing new Australian workplace agreements is:

    1. The employees could have their rate of pay and conditions dropped back to the parent award, or

    2. ALDI may decide to lock those employees out as individuals i.e. they would receive no pay until a new AWA is signed.

    Among other changes, the proposed AWAs do not guarantee a wage increase in the next three years. This year some employees have joined the New South Wales branch of the National Union of Workers, of which I have been a proud member for many years. At the beginning of March the union sought to enter Aldi's premises to hold discussions with the relevant employees in their non-working time. After a discussion with the union, the company subsequently denied right of entry to union members on that occasion. In spite of this, the union has met employees outside the workplace and many more of them have joined the union. Although Aldi maintains that it is neutral about union membership, employees have complained to the union that they feel intimidated by comments made by their supervisors and managers.

    Their line managers and supervisors have told the employees that there is no point in joining the union, they are putting their jobs at risk by joining the union, they should watch their backs if they join the union, the company will continually fight the union in the courts and have any decisions made by the union quashed, and that there is nothing that the union can do for employees that the company cannot. Company representatives have also been talking individually to all employees, who have been taken into an office and asked what they know about the union and how they are involved with it. Employees are also asked about their colleagues and their union involvement. This harassment continues on a daily basis among a work force that is approximately 75 per cent female. Some 78 people work at the warehouse, and the majority are young working mothers.

    Aldi has also suspended the site delegate for talking to people about joining the union. At the same time Aldi has stated that it does not recognise any delegate of the union as it deals with individual employees. Unions are a normal part of the Australian way of life and the Australian work force, and have been for many years. Many of the benefits that workers have today are the result of past initiatives undertaken by various unions. This is the Australian way. I do not know what happens in Germany but if this company wants to have a long and successful business life in Australia it must abide by the Australian rules, which are based on fairness in the workplace. If a worker wants to join a union, he or she has the right to do so. Union membership is not compulsory. We cannot force people to join a union and we cannot force them not to join a union. If this company is to be successful in Australia it must be successful on Australian terms.

    Worker harassment by Aldi is outrageous and must cease. The company has threatened to take the union to court. I welcome that move. I invite Aldi to take the union to court so that the whole country can see what the company is all about. It is illegal and wrong to tell workers to watch their backs and to say that their jobs are at risk if they speak to the union. It must stop. Paragraph d of the company's letter of 8 March states:
        If an employee decides not to sign a new AWA after the previous AWA has expired ALDI may decide to lock the employee out with the consequence of no pay from this point on until a new AWA is agreed.
    That is not the Australian way and it is certainly not the way of the National Union of Workers. If that is what happens in Germany, I ask the company to indulge in such behaviour in Germany, not in Australia.