Goulburn's Coles DC closure sparks union reaction

Sixty Goulburn-based Linfox drivers' face job uncertainty on the back of Coles' decision to close its local distribution centre by 2023. Photo: Louise Thrower.
Sixty Goulburn-based Linfox drivers' face job uncertainty on the back of Coles' decision to close its local distribution centre by 2023. Photo: Louise Thrower.

Unions plan to meet with Coles Distribution Centre management in an attempt to negotiate solutions for their members.

Employees were told on Friday that the Ducks Lane facility would close by 2023 along with four others. Coles instead is building two automated distribution centres – one in Queensland in 2022 and one in NSW in 2023 on yet to be decided greenfield sites. 

Some 250 to 300 workers at Goulburn face job loss unless they’re redeployed or an alternative found.

A spokesman for the National Union of Workers NSW branch said it only found out late Friday, after the announcement.

“The NUW NSW acknowledges that this is devastating news for Coles distribution centre workers and their families,” he said.

“The union will be meeting with its members and the company in Goulburn this Friday, October 12 to commence consultations on the Coles proposal. (We) will also be doing everything we can to support members through this process.”

The union would not say at this stage whether it opposed the plan. The company is embarking on a consultation process and says there will be “no immediate impact” on employees.

The Transport Workers Union, representing some 60 Goulburn-based Linfox truck drivers, is also arranging a meeting with management.

South Coast and southern NSW Sub Branch secretary Rob Pirc said delegates were likely present at Friday’s announcement but the union had “no inkling” of the impending closures. He accused the company of putting profits before people.

“It’s obviously very disappointing for our members. Over 300 people are affected by this and they and their families are devastated,” he said 

“...The State Government is promoting the idea of people moving to the regions and it acknowledges that freight and logistics are the backbone of these areas. We believe for a few shareholders to make a profit they are throwing people under a bus... We believe it is about greed.”

The Transport Workers Union South Coast and southern NSW Sub Branch secretary Rob Pirc says it's important to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward. Photo supplied.

The Transport Workers Union South Coast and southern NSW Sub Branch secretary Rob Pirc says it's important to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward. Photo supplied.

Nevertheless, Mr Pirc said his union wanted to meet not only with management, but Linfox, the council, state government and other stakeholders to find a solution. He said the union was not about automation but would explore all options to keep people in a job. Linfox, which is contracted to Coles to deliver products, runs 36 loads out of Goulburn daily.

“I think there should be a coordinated effort to ensure ongoing stability for these people,” Mr Pirc said.  

“That’s paramount because in five years we don’t want to be saying ‘what do we do next?’” We need a committee to decide now.”

While only lukewarm on the council’s intention to push for an automated centre here, Mr Pirc pointed out that many people moved to Goulburn for truck driver positions with Linfox. He said this was now in jeopardy but the city’s location was a key selling point to industry in managing fatigue management; trips were no longer than 14 hours.

In a letter distributed to employees, management wrote the automated centres would deliver “lower supply chain costs, higher service levels, improved efficiency and stock availability in stores.”

The company has enlisted German company Witron to provide technology.

“The new facility planned for NSW and the consequential major change to our existing distribution centre at Goulburn is likely to have a significant effect on our tem members, including you,” the letter stated.

“The significant effect may result in your redeployment and/or your position being made redundant. The details (of) the likely impact will be discussed further during consultation.” 

Meantime, Goulburn MP Pru Goward described the announcement as terrible news for the community, particularly workers and their families.

“This is a tough time for all involved and it is very wrong to use this as a political football,” she said in response to Labor candidate Dr Ursula Stephens’ comments on the weekend. 

“Their livelihoods are more important than that.” 

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This story Unions react to Coles’ distribution centre decision first appeared on Goulburn Post.

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