Clothing giant Country Road has had itself a good pandemic.
The ubiquitous fashion company likes to project itself as being the height of domestic sophistication, neat, dignified and considerate.
The truth is that this company that made bumper profits amidst COVID-19 online shopping boom is none of those things when it comes to looking after its workers.
Country Road Group, ships Mimco, Trenery, Witchery and Politix, and increased their profits by 44% in 2020 whilst also pocketing $25 million in JobKeeper subsidies from the taxpayer.
Yet, Country Road Group is operating an aggressive campaign of bullying and intimidation against its low paid, casual and insecure workers. Why? Because of their determination to join a Union and ask for better wages and conditions.
Workers from the company’s Western Melbourne warehouse are calling on the fashion retailer to improve working conditions that they say have left them feeling “disrespected, mistreated and underpaid.”
Along with their Union, the United Workers Union (UWU), workers have set up a website called Country Rogue detailing their poor treatment and establishing a petition to support their campaign.
The petition has already generated over 7,000 signatures. Workers are calling on the company to treat them with respect and are contemplating industrial action that the union said could extend into the new year.
Mick Power is a Logistics Co-Ordinator with the UWU. He spoke to “On the Job” and said the Country Road warehouse workers have had enough of the company’s aggressive and contemptuous attitude directed at their staff.
“The Country road warehouse workers have worked all the way through the pandemic, they put themselves at a much higher risk of getting COVID, and a number of them and their families did contract the disease.”
“(The workers) have busted their arse as Country Road has made ten’s of millions of dollars yet they’re still sitting just one or two dollars above minimum wage. That’s ridiculous for a company that made $29 million in the last financial year.”
According to Mick Power, Country Road’s aggressive strategy kicked into gear when the workers in its warehouse decided to re-organise and engage with the UWU to deal with their situation.
“The company is basically saying, ‘we do not want to give you union rights. We don’t want to give anything to casual workers on this site. we want to give you a 2.7% wage increase which the workers are really worried won’t cover inflation’”
“This warehouse workforce is mostly women. Generally, the warehouse workforce is predominantly male, and most of the industry makes a lot more money than these workers. The company sees these workers as a bit weak and so they’re trying to give them a nothing wage.”
County Road has seriously underestimated the determination of it’s staff to force the company to take its claims seriously. Mr. Power emphasised that for these warehouse workers, it comes down to the simple matter of being able to make a decent wage to pay their bills.
“They’re not trying to get a wage increase to buy a boat. Most of the workers I talk to work paycheck to paycheck. They borrow money from other family members to get by. You’ve got a lot of single mothers at the warehouse trying to get by and hoping that the company would negotiate with them.”
“It’s mostly women who work there who want to pay their bills and get to Xmas without having to borrow money from family and friends.”
Mick Power told On the Job that the hard line the company is taking was solidified once the workers decided to join the UWU.
“Last year, these workers on mass made the decision to join the UWU. What they’re finding is that ever since they made that choice, the company hasn’t been respecting it.”
“They used to have on site meetings, they used to have a Union notice board and the company took it away.”
“There’s been serious intimidation of workers.”
“There have been captive audience meetings where the manager tells all the workers to come to a meeting on work time if the group and threatens that there’s going to be consequences if people don’t vote up the EBA offer.”
“Individual managers have been having one on one private conversations, hinting or telling workers that their job security or their career advancement is at risk.”
Mr.Power said the workers remain steadfast in their determination not to back down and will continue their campaign to bring Country Road to the table to negotiate.
“We had another meeting last week with the company and made a number of significant compromises. We said we really want to fix this. We don’t actually want to pick a big fight.”
“But after seven months and you’re still not compromising on anything that’s just another level of disrespect. Fundamentally this company does not recognise that the workers have chosen to join the UWU.
“Their whole approach since last March is that they don’t respect that choice.”
“These workers have found their voice. It used to be a culture where everyone sat there quietly, and the boss told them how it was going be. They’ve done a beautiful job of creating a culture where workers feel like they’re equals and they can speak up.”
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Check out the Country Rogue Website!