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At 5 am this morning workers at Coles Smeaton Grange warehouse in New South Wales started 24-hour rolling work stoppages to improve redundancy in the face of coming automation.

In an aggressive response from the company, workers have now been told that Coles is locking them out until February 11, 2021.

“This morning, within hours of the strike commencing Coles advised its Smeaton Grange workforce that they would be locked out of the workplace without pay for three months,” said United Workers Union Logistic Director Matt Toner.

“This is a cruel and heartless decision that will see essential workers, workers that Coles and government praised so highly during the pandemic, go without pay during Christmas and the New Year.

“The UWU is skeptical that Coles will be able to service its Sydney supermarkets while they have locked down their largest NSW warehouse.” Mr Toner said.

Coles workers strike in New South Wales

Workers at Coles’ largest NSW warehouse will begin strike action today in a battle for their jobs in the face of automation. Over 350 workers at the distribution centre in Smeaton Grange are members of the United Workers Union (UWU) and voted to take rolling 24 hour stoppages after negotiations stalled in October.

Workers are seeking improved redundancy entitlements, the right to transfer to the new Coles warehouse, job security in the form of a permanent to casual ratio and an increased wage offer.

“Workers at Coles Smeaton Grange are taking action today because they’re fighting for the right to have a job,” said UWU Logistics Director Matt Toner.

Coles is currently building a new automated warehouse but so far have refused to give skilled and long-serving warehouse workers in Smeaton Grange an opportunity to be redeployed to the new warehouse. Some of these workers have worked for the company for over 30 years.

“Coles’ intention to automate is anti-community in its mindless pursuit of profit. Workers want the right to keep their job at the new facility and if not want to be respected for the many years of service they have given to ensure Coles’ profits, even throughout this global pandemic.” Mr Toner said.

“Automation is a historically significant challenge facing workers across the world right now. Workers at Smeaton Grange, and across the Coles supply chain, are demanding to be respected by a multi-billion dollar company as it changes the world of work in ways never seen before. Workers want a just transition. For many nearing the end of their working lives, finding another job will be difficult and finding another full-time permanent job could be impossible. Coles has a responsibility to workers that have given so much.”

Workers are calling for forced redundancies to be paid at 5 weeks per year of service, capped at 104  weeks.

Last year, Coles offered improved redundancies at its 3 NSW distribution centres that would be closed down but withdrew the offer after some members rejected it.

“Coles can meet workers’ request for a modest increase and improved redundancy, we know they can. Holding out against workers feels like a slap in the face, especially when Coles’ CEO increased his remuneration by 29 per cent in one year and the company has been making mega-profits off the back of essential workers throughout the global pandemic,” said Mr Toner.

Workers will be voting on whether to continue the 24-hour stoppages over the coming days. Coles has threatened workers with a three-month lockout.

“With one of its largest warehouses in NSW out of action, it’s hard to see how there will not be disruptions to supply especially over this busy Christmas period.” Mr Toner said