Neither John Chambers nor Chad Wyatt had been members of the union since they started working at Somerton’s Super A-Mart warehouse. However, today, both of them are manning a protest outside the same business that employs them. These young members of the union are fighting outside for the kind of battle for workers’ safety and rights that numerous Australians may vaguely remember in the past. The whole story of their predicament is not just a throwback to the earlier times. Instead, it serves as a warning of the upcoming industrial conflict which is threatening to steer the Abbott administration.
Just last month, together with their workmates, Chambers and Wyatt participated in a controversial one day work stoppage at the Super A-Mart workhouse because their employer could not meet their demands. Any Australian worker must be alarmed at how the most basic worker safety rights are often denied by employees. The management had no response to the action, whatsoever, so this prompted the employees to stop working one week later. Management now spoke up; it sent out extreme e-mails to the union workers saying that those who took part of the industrial dispute were now being indefinitely locked out.
Somerton is located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The Super A-Mart workers were among the old warehouse employees and most of them were aged 18 to 15. Their work involves mostly lifting and lugging so it requires physical effort and strength that older people cannot do properly. The warehouse retrieves and stacks delivery items that people order coming from its website and showrooms. Wyatt was initially employed through a labor hire company, but he applied for a regular and full time position in order to have improvement in income because his partner has a neurological condition and is financially dependent on his earnings.
On the other hand, Chambers hails from Queensland when, two years ago, Super A-Mart provided him with an offer for relocation at Somerton where he was promised a promotion in management. What these men attest to is the fact that they were assured of individual promotion in exchange for their unpaid hours. Chambers recalls that he was instructed repeatedly to work much harder so that he will earn an increase even if he was tasked to train his supervisors.
The union workers’ chief concern is the attitude of the management towards accidents happening in the warehouse. According to Wyatt, there is a generalised feeling that there is a threat to safety whenever they begin working. Safety inspection reports, which have been submitted by the union workers, indicate several fire exits which are blocked by stock rubbish and even live electric cables. Up to this time, management still refuses to answer queries regarding emergency points and inspectors have recently observed that employees were being forced to walk along forklift lanes as the walkways inside the factory are obstructed and poorly marked. A safety report concluded that several hazards were present inside the warehouse which put a lot of people at risk.