Consumers have been urged to stop buying Australia’s most famous ice creams this summer to help workers win an industrial dispute – but there are warnings the boycott will backfire.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union launched a national boycott campaign on Sunday against all Streets ice cream products, including Australian standards Paddle Pop, Splice, Golden Gaytime and Blue Ribbon, as well as imported brands Cornetto, Bubble O’ Bill, Vienetta and Calippo.
The union said approximately 140 workers would suffer a 46 per cent pay cut if Streets, owned by corporate giant Unilever, succeeds in its application to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the enterprise agreement that covers workers at its Minto plant in Sydney.
Unilever says there is “no truth” to the 46 per cent figure.
Steve Murphy, NSW secretary of the AMWU, said the problem of employers terminating collective agreements when negotiations stalled was “bigger than Streets”.
“Every Australian workers faces the risk that if their employer hits the nuclear button, they could too lose their wages and their conditions,” Mr Murphy told reporters on Sunday.
“So workers at Streets have got no other option but to seek the support of the Australian public to send a message to Unilever, to Streets and to all those employers seeking to hit the nuclear option that this is not going to be tolerated.”
Unilever says boycott will backfire
However, Unilever said it needed to cut costs at its Minto plant or else it would be forced to close. It said the boycott would only “hurt workers and local manufacturing”.
“Our goal is to keep making Streets ice cream products in Australia, but our Minto factory lacks the flexibility needed to run a seasonal business and is too costly to run, making it uncompetitive,” the company said in a statement.
“We cannot continue with the current situation as it’s simply not sustainable. For example, it’s currently almost 30 per cent cheaper to import a Magnum Classic ice cream made in Europe than to make the same ice cream at Minto, even when you include the 16,000 kilometres of frozen transport.
“Whatever the Fair Work Commission decides, we’ll continue to have discussions with our employees and the Union to find a solution that works for everyone and makes the Streets factory more viable.
“We know this is a very difficult time for our employees, but the best way the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU) can help workers is to shore up their jobs by working with us to make the factory more viable. Ultimately if we need to close the factory, everyone is worse off.”
Negotiations between Unilever and the AMWU on a new collective agreement at the Minto plant lasted 16 months before the employer applied to terminate.
What is the ‘nuclear option’?
The AMWU’s Mr Murphy’s “nuclear option” was a reference to section 225 of the Fair Work Act, which allows employers to apply for EBAs that have reached their nominal expiry date to be terminated, which returns workers to minimum award rates.
Unions say this erodes the power of workers to renegotiate a collective agreement as it nears its expiry date.
In several recent cases – including CFMEU v AGL in 2017, AMWU v Griffin Coal in 2016, and CEPU v Aurizon in 2015 – the Fair Work Commission has granted these termination applications, despite the concerns of unions.
According to the Labor Party, EBA terminations have more than doubled, from 156 in the year 2014 to 517 in 2016. The party has pledged to amend the Fair Work Act to make it harder to terminate EBAs if it wins the next election.
In supporting the Streets boycott, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said it was “unAustralian to cut workers’ pay”.
“We are calling on the people of Australia to make this a Streets-free summer,” Ms McManus said.
“We’re doing that because we have 150 Australian families – parents, children – that will suffer because their wages are going to be cut by 50 per cent if we let this very profitable multi-national get away with cutting workers’ pay.”
Streets was founded in Australia in the 1920s by Edwin Street in Corrimal, NSW.