Update – November 22, 2021
The United Workers Union announced that Country Road Group’s workers have agreed to accepting a new offer from the brand, which includes a bunch of new permanent jobs, and better rates for casual staff members.
In a tweet posted on Monday, the union confirmed that workers had met that morning and voted to accept the new offer. This included 13.3% across EBA, including backpay, 20 new permanent roles, and new union rights and recognition.
BREAKING: COUNTRY ROAD WORKERS WIN!
Workers met this morning & voted to accept a new offer which included:⁰- 13.3% across EBA incl. backpay.⁰- 20 new permanent jobs.⁰- site rates for casuals.⁰- new union rights & recognition.
— United Workers Union (@UnitedWorkersOz) November 21, 2021
In a statement posted to Facebook, the United Workers Union said the group of predominantly women workers came to the agreement on day 12 of their strike action, which included protests in stores and at Melbourne Fashion Week.
“On day 12 of their strike, United Workers Union members at Country Road Group voted to return to work this morning after securing an agreement that includes an increased pay rise, secure jobs and recognition for their chosen Union,” the statement read.
“Workers were only able to achieve this fantastic new offer by standing strong and United. Well done Country Road Group workers!”
A group, who say they are workers from Country Road’s Western Melbourne warehouse, is calling on the fashion brand to improve a series of alleged working conditions that they say have left them feeling “disrespected, mistreated and underpaid”.
In a website presented by the United Worker’s Union called Country Rogue, workers from the warehouse owned by Country Road Group claim that they’ve experienced insecure work, a lack of respect, and received pay not equal to people in their industry in the same suburb.
According to the Union, the workers at this warehouse (which the Union claims has a higher than average percentage of female employees), allegedly earn as much as $10 less than people in nearby warehouses owned by other companies, mostly staffed with male workers.
The Union claims that a large number of these employees are casual workers. If true, it would mean that they are in no safe working position to negotiate because they could lose their source of income at literally any point in time.
The Union claims on the Country Rogue site that staff “experienced disrespectful treatment, fac[ed] intimidation and bullying”, and lost a significant amount of their rights as a member of their Union.
The workers are threatening to take industrial action and claim that it could last until next year. A petition calling for Country Road Group to “treat [their] warehouse workers with respect” has nearly reached its 7000 signature target.
“Workers aren’t asking for much, they just want a fair pay rise that starts to close the gap between what they earn and other warehouses doing the same job, secure work that doesn’t leave them stressing about making the next bill, rostered days off to recognised the huge workload they do and union rights,” read the petition.
“Instead, management has treated them with total disrespect. Time for Country Road to live up to its ethical image and provide the workers with a fair deal.”
It’s unclear where the warehouse is exactly located in “Western Melbourne” but we did catch a job advertisement for a number of permanent full-time, part-time, and limited tenure casual Logistics Assistant positions at a distribution centre in Truganina, Victoria.
The casual positions are listed to run until January 2022. The job ad also claims that the management team there “cares [and] invest[s] their time to develop and coach” employees.
Back in 2020, Country Road Group, which also owns Mimco, Trenery, Witchery, and Politix, increased their profits by 44% and accepted $25 million in JobKeeper. According to the United Worker’s Union, however, they did not give any of that money back to their warehouse employees.
In a statement shared exclusively with PEDESTRIAN.TV at the time of publishing, a spokesperson for Country Road Group denied claims that they had significantly underpaid staff and said that over the past 10 months, the company has “been in consultation with bargaining representatives to agree on wage increases every year for the next three years through the EBA process.”
“Through collaborative discussion, we increased our initial offer in May; this offer is 11% higher than the award rate set by the Fair Work Commission, and reflects our values of fairness, flexibility, and sustainability following meaningful consultation with our team.
“Our distribution centre team members have always been paid wages that are above the industry award rate set by the FWC.”
They added: “Regrettably, the UWU has responded to a fair and reasonable process by attempting to publicly discredit our brands with false and baseless allegations of underpayment, bullying and harassment to leverage its demands. This is an unfortunate and unreasonable approach, which unfairly tarnishes our brands and our team without merit.”
Meanwhile, United Workers Union logistics coordinator Mick Power told PEDESTRIAN.TV: “Workers at Country Road have been left with no option but to strike after the company has refused to pay their warehouse workers, most of whom are women, wages that are in line with other warehouses in the industry and area.
“These workers have chosen the United Workers Union to negotiate with them, and the company has responded by refusing to respect their choice to negotiate as a union, and instead resorted to intimidating workers.
“Country Road wants to ride the wave of ethical consumerism, but behind closed doors, they’re going to great lengths to disrespect their warehouse workers and keep them living paycheck to paycheck.”
Back in September 2020, it was revealed that David Jones and Country Road had underpaid staff by $3.7 million in 2019.