Coles threatens to stand down workers over vomit clean-up ban

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Coles are withholding pay from employees who refuse to clean up vomit, clean out trolleys or collapse boxes as part of protected industrial action, in a hardline counter to supermarket strikes this weekend.

The major chain has warned its staff that Retail and Fast Food Workers Union members who refuse to perform duties banned by the union – which also includes collecting trolleys, cleaning toilets and changing price stickers – they won’t be paid, even if they continue with other work.

Coles will not pay workers who refuse to do certain tasks in response to industrial action this week.Credit: Bloomberg

“If they participate in these partial work bans, they are not entitled to payment and Coles refuses to accept the partial performance of work until the team member is prepared to perform all of their normal duties,” Coles warned staff in a memo. “It is our legal right to do this.”

While withholding pay for partial work bans is lawful under the Fair Work Act, employers also have the option of deducting smaller amounts from wages, prompting the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union head, Josh Cullinan, to accuse Coles of overkill.

“In retaliation to Friday’s bans, Coles has directed that it will stand down every worker who implements a ban and not pay them at all. This includes a ban on cleaning up vomit or bodily fluids, cleaning the manager’s toilet or talking to customers about our action,” he said.

The Coles memo said staff participating in the partial work ban were allowed to remain at work.

The instructions say: “If a team member asks you whether they should leave, simply tell them it is their choice, but they will not be paid until they retract their partial work ban by telling you or their line manager.”

The partial work bans are part of greater industrial action involving potentially hundreds of workers at Coles and Woolworths from Friday, which includes a two-hour strike across several stores in most states and territories from 10am on Saturday. The combined national workforce of the two chains is about 150,000 people and widespread disruptions aren’t expected.

The union, the smaller of the two unions that represent supermarket workers, estimated up to 1000 workers will take part. The much larger Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association is not taking part in the dispute.

The industrial action is a result of a breakdown in bargaining between Coles and the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union after negotiations began in March. As part of its claim for a new workplace deal at both companies, the union is demanding a $29 hourly base rate for workers and an annual pay increase of up to 5 per cent.

Union boss Josh Cullinan said Coles’ response to the industrial action was retaliatory. Credit: Cameron Atfield

A spokesperson for the supermarket said Coles was negotiating collaboratively with staff and had already passed on the 5.75 per cent minimum wage increase handed down by the Fair Work Commission in July while continuing “to provide above-award conditions under our current enterprise agreement”.

“Coles is committed to delivering an outcome that balances the needs of our team members, the sustainability of our business and ensures we can continue to deliver great value and experiences for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

Cullinan said Woolworths had not told its workforce it was docking pay for partial work bans.

A Woolworths spokesperson said management had been in regular contact with union representatives and an initial bargaining meeting had already occurred.

“We have a long history of bargaining in good faith with our team and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said.

“However, we acknowledge and respect the right of team members to take protected industrial action.”

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