Big Issues

Why You Shouldn’t Shop At Coles And Woolworths Tomorrow

woolworths and coles workers strike

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This Saturday, upwards of 1000 Coles and Woolworths workers will be striking across the country for better work and pay conditions. Represented by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), strikers will stop work from 10am in the hopes the supermarket behemoths put a better offer on the table. 

Junkee spoke to RAFFWU federal secretary Josh Cullinan about what the workers are fighting for and why customers should reevaluate shopping at Coles and Woolworths. 

Why Are Coles And Woolworths Workers Striking?

Josh told us there are a few different things fuelling the Coles and Woolworths workers strike. “[Workers] are paid the absolute minimum wage — a few cents more than absolute minimum wages. They don’t have a great deal of job security,” Josh said. “They don’t have enough hours as part timers [and] casuals are told they can’t convert to part-time. Their workplaces are fundamentally unsafe even post-pandemic and they’re now dealing with all of the issues of abuse, intimidation, threats, and harassment”. So, just basic human rights stuff. 

Woolworths and Coles workers want to see substantial and real change from their employers who have promised to bargain but haven’t done so yet. This weekend is the first time in history that Woolworths supermarket workers are striking. Coles butchers went on strike around eight years ago in Victoria, but this is the first time a supermarket worker strike has gone national, and many stores will probably be affected. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of stores. It’s about 1000 workers, so many stores will have one or two workers going on strike,” Josh said. 

Josh told Junkee that a Christmas super strike may also be on the cards if Woolworths and Coles continue underpaying workers. “We’ve now got only a few weeks til Christmas, is it time for a Christmas super strike? That will certainly have a very big impact and our members may very well for the first time have an opportunity to have Christmas off.” 

Striking isn’t the only form of industrial action workers are taking. Some are looking at bans like not unloading trucks, not heating bread up, not working the assisted checkout without safety matting, not going into meetings with management, or not training those that are going to replace them while they go on strike. Coles also reportedly told staff that if any worker engages in industrial action like not cleaning trolleys or wiping up biological hazards, they won’t be considered for payment. Josh said this was an “unprecedented attack” on Coles workers. 

“[It’s] really disappointing and a heartless approach from Coles we don’t even see from some of the most outrageously union and worker attacking companies,” Josh said. “Here’s a company that purports to care, but when it comes down to it, it pays [workers] minimum wages, many of them children. [And] if they step up, they’ll put them on the breadline and [we’re] really disappointed with that.”

Should You Still Shop At Coles And Woolworths? 

It’s hard to wrap your head around just how much money Coles and Woolworths make, especially in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Yet they don’t pay their workers liveable wages. 

“They function as corporations in the pursuit of profit. They’ve made a conscious choice that the profit that they can extract from the community, and from their own workforce, is more important than the living standards of their workers,” Josh said.

For that reason, Josh thinks we should avoid shopping at Woolworths and Coles while the strikes are happening. “Customers shouldn’t be shopping there during the strike action. They should become aware and informed about what’s going on and … make a conscious choice to act in solidarity with workers and not shop there during those times.”

Even beyond the strike, Josh believes we should reconsider how much we shop at Coles. “Coles has literally said to a single parent trying to feed their kids and put a roof over their head, who is prepared to take a small form of action to improve wages and conditions, that they will not pay them.”

“I don’t want to shop at a place that treats its workers like that.”

For more information on the strike head to RAFFWU’s website.

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image credit: AAP