Pay deals across Australia’s big two supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, are expected to be signed off soon, setting the scene for further agreements across the $24 billion a month retail sector.

Coles and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), the union representing retail workers, have expressed confidence a long-awaited agreement will be approved shortly.

Coles managing director John Durkan last week told Fairfax Media: “We’re going to be good to go shortly, actually in the next couple of weeks.

“We expect this to go through smoothly. They’re our team members, we want to ensure that we’ve got really content, happy, engaged team members. So we’re going to absolutely do the right thing here and we expect it to go through.”

Advertisement

The Coles deal provides a pay rise of 9.3 per cent over three years and covers about 80,000 workers. It has also raised conflict between the SDA and the union representing meat workers.

Under the proposed deal, it’s believed shop assistants’ ordinary hours of work and penalties will be unchanged.

But the deal for meat workers – new to the national retail agreement – has been slammed by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) as a “major loss for meat workers’ conditions and a major loss to penalty rates”.

Graham Smith, AMIEU federal secretary, said the deal would remove the premium for meat workers compared with other workers instore, although butchers will retain their higher rates.

He said newer workers would be moved on to lower penalty and base rates, as well as less attractive rostering arrangements, such as losing three-day weekends or guaranteed weekends off.

And he said although existing meat workers would retain their penalty rates, new workers would lose penalties for working after 7pm, or in the early morning, or on Saturdays. Sunday pay would be reduced to time-and-a-half pay from double, he said.

The SDA’s Gerard Dwyer said the new deal would affect meat workers differently, depending on which state they lived in, and included increases in base rates in a number of jurisdictions, including Tasmania.

Coles’s agreement expired in the middle of last year.

The SDA last year flagged it would seek a 5 per cent yearly increase at Coles, but the latest official figures show the wage price index grew by 2.5 per cent in the year to December 2014.

Inflation grew by just 1.3 per cent in the year to the March quarter 2015, down from 1.7 per cent annual growth the previous quarter, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show.

The SDA has traditionally sought similar pay increases at Coles and Woolworths, although was tight-lipped about its hopes for the Woolworths talks.

A pay deal for about 100,000 Woolworths workers is expected to be put to shop steward and delegates in “three to four weeks,” Mr Dwyer said.

The Woolworths pay agreement covers all workers within the supermarkets and doesn’t expire until July.

Woolworths did not respond to requests for comment. Its pay bill was $7.3 billion in 2014, up 4 per cent year on year.

Fairfax Media reported in February that agreements covering more than 800,000 workers are up for negotiation in 2015.

According to a recent report by think tank Per Capita, Australian workers enjoyed a $484 rise in income each year from 2001 to 2014, thanks to strong wage growth. But nominal wage growth has fallen each year since 2011, and real wages dropped in 2013.

The Productivity Commission will release a draft report on the performance of Australia’s workplace relations laws and ways to improve them in July. Its final report will be released in November.

A 2014 report by the Productivity Commission said the retail sector accounted for 1.27 million, or 10.6 per cent, of the nation’s jobs overall.

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.