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The United Workers Union (UWU) has today called on Coles to urgently get the Smeaton Grange warehouse operational in the face of a growing COVID-19 outbreak threatening Sydney. Workers are ready to get back to work to provide Sydney with the supplies it will need, but have been locked out by the company since November when negotiations for improved redundancy for workers facing automation broke down.

“These workers were there in the pandemic last time and can be there again. Coles can get this crucial warehouse operating again very easily, all they need to do is negotiate fairly with workers,” said UWU Logistics Director Matt Toner.

“Workers outstanding claims are simple, improved job security in the form of a casual to permanent ratio, the right to transfer to the new Coles automated warehouse and improved redundancy that acknowledges workers jobs are being automated.”

Coles has set up a system of temporary rogue warehouses to undermine workers’ ability to negotiate a fair outcome. The Union understands these secondary warehouses are staffed entirely by casual workers who are under a huge amount of pressure to maintain Coles’ promise that their lockout won’t affect customers over the festive season.

“This pandemic has proven that insecure and highly casualised work is not good for individual workers and it’s not good for the community. Workers feel they cannot speak up in high-pressure environments and are at higher risk of unsafe work practices.

“With a growing outbreak threatening New South Wales, it’s time for Coles to sit down with their long-term workforce at Smeaton Grange, negotiate a fair deal and let them get on with the job like they did in the first wave of the pandemic,” Mr Toner said.

An online fundraising effort to support the 350 locked-out families over Christmas has now raised over $60,000 and the Union is calling for the broader community to continue donating money and food to locked-out workers over the Christmas and New Year period.

“The community has been very generous in supporting workers and their families, and we hope to fundraise $100,000 in coming days. Coles may have stolen Christmas from their dedicated workforce, but the community spirit is keeping it alive,” said Mr Toner.

With just three days to Christmas, there’s also been a call for children’s gifts.


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