Coles has temporarily shut down one of its major Sydney warehouses after hundreds of its workers went on strike over pay and conditions.
More than 350 workers are employed at the Smeaton Grange distribution centre which will now be closed for three months. It is one of the largest such facilities in NSW.
The strike began after union negotiations broke down over the new enterprise agreement regarding wage increases and redundancy clauses.
United Workers Union (UWU) director Matt Toner said workers were striking for job security as the facility moved towards automation by 2023.
“The workers are seeking the right to have a job at the new automated warehouse whereas Coles wants to toss them to the kerb and we also want workers to also have a good redundancy package if they are made redundant,” he said.
“It was a slap in the face to find out they were closing the facility this morning through a piece of paper.”
However, Coles chief operating officer (COO) Matthew Swindells said the union were told on Monday the facility would be shut for three months if threats of striking continued.
Mr Swindells said temporarily shutting the facility now would ensure there was no unexpected disruption to customers over the all-important Christmas period.
Coles will instead lean on other distribution centres in NSW to ensure the supermarket can still offer its full range of products.
“That site has a number of years still to run, it’s not closing down. This is to protect Christmas and we won’t have our customers’ Christmas lunch held to ransom by unjustifiable and excessive demands from a union when we put forward a very generous offer,” Mr Swindells said.
He said similar offers had been accepted by UWU at Coles’ facilities in Goulburn and Parkinson in Queensland.
Workers will ‘stick it out for as long as it takes’
Smeaton Grange is the highest-paid site in the Coles network currently and staff are pushing for a 5.5 per cent pay increase.
Coles has offered 3.5 per cent and has offered a maximum of 80 weeks’ pay for involuntary redundancies resulting from the expected closure of the site in 2023.
“I am sorry for so many team members at Smeaton who have been brainwashed into thinking the offer is not a good offer, and into thinking that we don’t value them,” Mr Swindells said.
“The demands are just not justifiable. Our original offer is still on the table.”
However, workers at Smeaton have rejected this offer and have demanded redundancy payments up to the equivalent of two years’ pay.
Mr Toner said the strike would continue.
“The workers are prepared to stick it out for as long as it takes to get what they deserve, we’re just waiting for Coles to call us to talk about how they can improve their offer,” he said.