17 June 2021

Coles workers react to news Goulburn distribution centre will close

| Hannah Sparks
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Coles store

Coles has confirmed it will close its distribution centre in Goulburn on 5 October. Photo: File.

At least 207 people will be without a job when Coles shuts its Goulburn distribution centre on 5 October this year.

The date will mark three years since employees first heard of the closure.

A distribution centre employee’s wife, who wished to remain anonymous following a reminder from Coles not to talk to the media, said the wait had been stressful.

“Not having an end date…has reduced every employee’s capacity for future employment planning,” she said.

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“The dangling of a well-intended and well-deserved redundancy package has further limited the ability to apply for jobs as prospective employers want you now and the delay in being given an end date made it almost impossible to make alternative employment arrangements.

“If doing so more than 16 weeks prior to the end date, an employee missed the opportunity for said redundancy.”

The employee’s wife said information about the closure had often been leaked to employees before it was officially announced by Coles over the past three years.

She said Coles originally said the centre would close in 2023/24, however a leaked email showed 2019 was the preferred closure date.

Little did employees know at the time the closure would be two years later.

“People jumped and gave up redundancy, panicked at the thought of entering the unemployment line with 200-ish others,” she said.

“Others have tried to and in some cases managed multiple jobs, trying to keep their foot in the door at new employment while maintaining their eligibility for redundancy.”

Her husband is expecting a reasonable redundancy package and has some options for future work, but they are worried others won’t find it so easy.

“The workforce is largely without formal skills and jobs paying the rate at which they will exit are hard to come by for an unskilled workforce,” she said.

Another employee hired on a casual basis, said they weren’t entitled to a redundancy package and that their future was uncertain.

“My agency is looking at the possibility of transferring me to another warehouse if I want to. My future at the moment is uncertain and a bit worrying,” they said.

So far, Goulburn-based Linfox drivers have only been issued with a statement on the closure date.

In the statement, Linfox said it was notified of the closure date at the same time as Coles employees.

In response, the company said it was “in the process of determining available options” for Goulburn-based staff members.

“Rest assured, we will keep you updated on a regular basis, both in person and in writing once we have further information,” the statement said.

Coles told Region Media it had kept team members updated since first announcing the closure in 2018 and began negotiating redundancies with employees in 2019.

Under the site exit agreement, employees will receive four weeks’ pay per year of completed service.

Employees over the age of 45 will receive an additional one week’s pay per year of completed service to a maximum of 10 weeks’ pay.

The maximum amount payable is 80 weeks’ pay, according to Coles.

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“We will work with team members to explore redeployment opportunities for those who wish to continue working at Coles and team members will also have access to employee assistance and outplacement support,” a Coles spokesperson said.

“Redundancies will also be offered to eligible team members in line with either the site exit agreement, which was approved by team members in December 2019, or their contract of employment.

“Stock volumes currently processed at Goulburn will be managed at other Coles distribution centres which have excess capacity following the outsourcing of liquor distribution.”

Coles will continue to employ more than 700 people in the Goulburn region across five supermarkets, six liquor stores and eight Coles Express convenience sites.

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Bill Gates has recommended a Robot Tax and South Korea is limiting tax deductions on capital expenditure that displaces workers.

There’s no essential need for Coles to take this step; it’s not involved in an economy growing export industry that is short on labor.

The economic effects are all on the downside: the robots are imports and many displaced workers will need government subsidies & pensions to replace their incomes, just for starters.

All that was probably needed was some improvements in manual handling systems.

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