Australians could miss out on some of their favourite treats this summer if angry factory workers strike to prevent mass production of Streets ice creams.
Streets workers now fear for their livelihood because of pay cuts of 46 per cent, with union threats to boycott the company’s favourite brands, including Magnum.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) representing the workers has threatened a campaign to urge people to boycott Streets ice-creams – such as the Magnum, Cornetto, Paddle Pop and Golden Gaytime – in protest against pay cuts.
It follows about 16 months of negotiations and calls for Unilever, the multinational which owns Streets, to withdraw its application to terminate the current enterprise agreement, which will come into effect by April next year.
Steve Murphy, the AMWU New South Wales secretary, said the union had not ruled out taking strike action at a later date on behalf of workers at the Streets factory in Minto, New South Wales.
Mr Murphy told The New Daily the current award rates would be slashed by 46 per cent.
“I’ve been to mass meetings, talking to workers on site — some of them very loyal employees — and they cannot believe Unilever is doing this to them after 20 years of working for the company,” he said.
Some workers have said it would absolutely destroy their family, their ability to afford rent and education for their kids, and their general standard of living.
“One worker said they worry about how they will continue to support their autistic child with the same level of care and therapy.
“Another said they will probably lose their family if the agreement termination goes ahead.”
Mr Murphy said the Carlton and United Breweries pay dispute last year was a recent example of a successful consumer boycott campaign.
“Workers’ voices have been silenced because of their social media policy,” Mr Murphy said.
“So that’s why we (the union) are speaking on their behalf.
“But consumers can choose between what ice cream they buy this summer.”
A Unilever spokesman said the Fair Work Commission is currently assessing its application to terminate the existing enterprise agreement at the Streets ice cream factory.
“The suggestion by unions that Unilever will or may reduce employee wages by 46 per cent has no basis in fact,” he said.
“The facts are that the costs of production at the Minto site remain high and uncompetitive and this is not a sustainable position.”
Consumers ‘unlikely’ to give up favourite ice creams
Queensland University of Technology’s marketing expert Gary Mortimer said union calls for a boycott would not deter consumers from buying their favourite ice creams and instead, would “most likely fall on deaf ears”.
“Ice-creams are impulsive purchases and readily available,” the Associate Professor said.
“We (also) often see consumers react negatively when unions commence industrial action.”
Dr Paul Harrison, a consumer behaviour expert at Deakin University, agreed that a boycott would not cause much damage to the company unless it gained momentum.
“One of the strongest drivers of consumer behaviour is convenience. Another is when the issue directly affects you,” he said.
“It’s not that people don’t care about this issue, but we make so many decisions every day that if we’re presented with a fridge of Streets ice creams, some might opt to boycott but the reality is that most people won’t.”
A union boycott of CUB beer in 2016 saw unions ultimately win a 180-day dispute over pay and conditions.
Streets workers believes strike action remains a strong possibility, which could see shortages of the company’s products over summer.