Bill Shorten union assisted SDA with Coles sweetheart deal


Bill Shorten’s old union signed off on a sweetheart deal with supermarket giant Coles that enshrined illegal underpayments for 30,000 casual workers before it was struck down by the industrial relations umpire.

The Opposition Leader has slammed “mistakes” in the 2014 agreement that needed to be “rectified” in a rebuke to the shopworkers union, which represents most Coles staff, after it emerged casual workers were underpaid as much as $100 million.

The Fair Work Commission struck out the deal last month on the grounds it breached the ­“better-off overall test” that ­applies under industrial law.

In the wake of the commission’s decision, ordering Coles to repay workers short-changed by the deal, Mr Shorten said Coles and the union “have to rectify the mistakes, full stop”.

But The Australian can reveal Mr Shorten’s powerbase, the Australian Workers Union, helped the Shop Distributive and Allied Workers hash out the Coles enterprise agreement.

The AWU was also a party to the previous deal, filed with the Fair Work Commission in 2011 and signed by ALP factional boss and union “godfather” Bill Ludwig, then AWU president.

The deals drove thousands of members to the conservative ­unions, payments to union-linked funds, and bolstered their influence inside the ALP.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has criticised the Coles deal, pledging industrial relations reform that would scrutinise deals between businesses and unions.

Senator Cash, who will reveal more of the Coalition’s response to the Heydon royal commission into trade union governance and corruption at a National Press Club appearance today, has said “workplace deals must be honest and transparent”.

The Coalition is expected to promise revamped legislation banning “corrupting payments’ by business to unions — covering any flow of funds that are not disclosed to workers — which threatens millions of dollars of ­annual donations and payments to union-linked training funds.

The Fair Work Commission last month ordered Coles to pay award penalty rates or the deal would be invalid. However, Coles refused to fix the underpayment, instead opting to apply the 2011 enterprise agreement to its workforce of 75,000.

The 2011 deal faces a Fair Work Commission challenge today by part-time Coles night worker Penny Vickers, who argues that it also pays below-award penalty rates.

If the commission agrees, it would rule that deal also illegal.

If workers then defaulted to award wages, the SDA claims it could cut weekly pay for fulltime day staff by up to $100.

Ms Vickers, who is also a shop steward with the SDA’s Brisbane branch, is a mother of two who works three shifts a week, including Sunday. She claimed the 2011 deal leaves her $1500 a year worse off based on evidence provided by an actuary.

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said yesterday the union hoped to negotiate a new enterprise agreement that left all workers “better off”.

Coles and Mr Shorten’s office declined to comment.

This is not the first scandal over penalty rates to embroil Mr Shorten’s former union.

The AWU struck workplace deals with Cleanevent cleaning company that traded away millions of dollars in penalty rates for low-paid cleaners, the Heydon royal commission revealed.

The first deal with Cleanevent was signed by Mr Shorten as secretary of the AWU’s Victoria branch in 1998.