A new report by academics with the ACU highlights the experience of warehouse workers who lost their jobs when Woolworths, Australia’s largest private sector employer, closed the Hume Distribution Centre in the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows in 2019.
In 2015, Woolworths announced its plan to close the Hume DC and relocate operations to a new automated site, the Melbourne South Regional Distribution Centre in Melbourne’s southeast. The Hume DC was finally closed at the beginning of 2020. Cumulatively, almost 700 jobs were affected.
The report finds that:
- Unemployment was extremely high among retrenched workers—a problem which was sharpened by the Covid-19 crisis.
- There was a major decline in wage income among workers in new jobs.
- Problems of insecure work are getting worse.
- Insufficient local opportunities combined with low labour market mobility to limit workers’ access to new jobs, including opportunities in other Melbourne warehouses (and including the MSRDC in southeast Melbourne).
- Retrenchment meant lower financial security for most workers.
- The Covid-19 crisis had a severe impact on working lives.
- Attitudes to union membership remained strong.
- Findings from this study are relevant to ongoing problems in warehousing.
Quotes attributable to Matt Toner, United Workers Union, Logistics Director:
“Warehouse workers across Woolworths and Coles face ongoing uncertainty in the face of impending automation and site closures. We know that our members have decades of experience, deep knowledge, and transferable skills to offer their companies. They should be able to maintain their employment on the same terms and conditions, rather than be thrown to the scrap heap – where they will inevitably end up in more precarious and lower paid positions.”
“The reality is that even automated warehouses need human workers. If Australia does not want to go the way of the Amazon model, our political leaders need a plan for a just transition in warehousing and other industries affected by technological change.”
“We can have sophisticated warehouses and good union jobs—we don’t need to choose between the two.”
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