Coles has temporarily closed one of its main Sydney warehouses, with hundreds of its workers on strike over pay and conditions.
The Smeaton Grange distribution center employs more than 350 workers and will now be closed for three months. It is one of the largest such facilities in the NSW.
The strike began after union talks broke down over a new corporate agreement on wage increases and layoffs.
Matt Toner, director of the United Workers Union (UWU), said workers were on strike for job security as the facility moved toward automation by 2023.
“Workers are seeking the right to work in the new automated warehouse, while Coles wants to prevent them, and we want them to have a good layoff package if workers are laid off,” he said.
“Finding them covering this facility with a piece of paper this morning is a room in the face.”
However, Coles chief executive officer (COO) Matthew Swindles said on Monday the union had been told the facility would be closed for three months if strike threats continued.
Mr Swindles said the suspension of the facility now would ensure that customers were not disturbed during all important Christmas seasons.
Coles will instead lean to other distribution centers in NSW to ensure that the supermarket can still deliver its full range of products.
“That site still has many years to run, and it’s not closed. This is to protect Christmas.
He said the UW had accepted similar offers at Coles’ facilities in Colburn and in Parkinson’s in Queensland.
Workers ‘stick to it until it takes’
Smeaton Grange is currently the highest paid site on the Coles network, and employees are pushing for a 5.5 percent pay rise.
Coles paid 3.5 percent and offered a maximum of 80 weeks’ pay for arbitrary layoffs as a result of site closures in 2023.
“I’m sorry for the many team members at Smitten, they have been brainwashed into thinking this offer is not a good offer, and we think we do not respect them,” Mr Swindles said.
“Requests are not fair. Our original offer is still on schedule.”
However, workers at Smitten rejected the offer and demanded a two-year pay strike.
Mr Toner said the strike would continue.
“Workers are willing to fire it until it takes to get what they want, and we are waiting for Coles to call us to talk about how they can improve their offer,” he said.