Country Road is a well-known clothing chain in Australia, which likes to market itself as an ethical business. The local parent company has a highly visible retail profile. In addition to the Country Road stores, it owns Witchery, Mimco, Politix and Trenery. The owner of all is the South African multinational Woolworths Holding Limited (WHL).
The company secured $300 million revenue final monetary year and received $25 a million in JobKeeper subsidy from the government.
Country Road’s website states: “We’re committed to upholding high social, ethical and environmental standards in the supply chain, as well as empowering marginalised artisans.” These words do not match up to how its workers are treated.
Trouble has boiled over at the Country Road warehouse at Truganina in the west of Melbourne. The 150 strong work force, mainly women, planned to strike and set up picket. The strike scheduled to start last Wednesday after a vote, has been postponed for an application for a bargaining period under the existing industrial relations law. This should be settled by the beginning of next week when the strike will commence if progress with the company has not been made.
Supported by the United Workers Union, these workers staged a demonstration outside country Road’s Melbourne’s South Yarra flagship store on Sunday and followed up with a rally outside David Jones in the city on Wednesday.
Country Road workers rally outside David Jones in Melbourne’s CBD on Wednesday
The problem is that women are paid $10 an hour less than men. Even the male wage is not enough at $22.50 to $26 an hour. The workers are demanding a small rise of 4 percent. In other comparable workplaces the pay is around $30 an hour. To get this into perspective, it should be noted that the grossly inadequate national minimum wage is $20.33 an hour.
Matters have been made worse with ongoing intimidation against those who ask questions. A parallel has been drawn with the mistreatment of workers at Amazon.
The dispute is harming the company brand. The longer this dispute goes and the more the public learns about it, the more likely customers will stay away. Paying women less than the men they work alongside no longer matches community expectations.
The union’s logistics coordinator Mick Power, said “Several insecure workers reported to officials that their jobs had been threatened if they participated in industrial action… I have worked with some antagonistic bosses in the past, but the behaviour displayed towards workers at Country Road Group by managers is frankly disgraceful.”
The company is accusing the union of trying to damage the company name and telling lies. But the truth about unequal wages is in the pay received. This can’t be talked around.