At least 250 jobs will go from Goulburn when the Coles Distribution Centre closes in up to five years.
Workers were told on Friday the South Goulburn facility, built some 12 years ago, would shut due to Coles’ decision to build two automated distribution centres in Queensland and NSW over the next five years.
“The new facilities will improve product availability and freshness for customers while improving workplace safety and driving supply chain efficiencies that will ensure the future sustainability of our business,” a spokesperson said.
The move is part of a $20 billion de-merger from parent company, Wesfarmers, to create a separate entity.
The centres will up the ante in the chain’s competition with Woolworths, which is well underway with planning for a new robotic distribution centre in Melbourne’s outer east.
The Goulburn Post understands local employees were told that Goulburn, Smeaton Grange and Eastern Creek distribution centres, plus another two elsewhere would close as a direct result of the automation move.
The new centres would not be operational for another five years. The existing ones would run in parallel until the automated facilities were built and could “stand on their own.” A spokesperson said firm dates had not been set for Goulburn’s closure.
“It is important to note that there is no immediate impact to any of our team members as a result of this decision and we informed (them) of the decision as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
National Union of Workers representatives were at the meeting. The union has not responded to The Post’s request for comment.
Labor candidate for Goulburn Dr Ursula Stephens said distressed employees had contacted her.
“They are really anxious,” she said.
“It wasn’t a positive meeting and people were very unhappy about the way it was done.”
Dr Stephens said some workers received the news via text message. She understood they were not told specifically what the automation involved, only that it was necessary to reclaim market share from Woolworths.
Goulburn MP Pru Goward described it as “terrible news.” She said she only found about it on Friday. Ms Goward was unable to comment further at this stage due to family illness.
We have the connectivity and (transport) network and there’s no reason why we can’t be considered. Let’s ask the question...Mayor Bob Kirk
Mayor Bob Kirk said the announcement was a blow to the city. He also found out on Friday during a meeting at Hume MP Angus Taylor’s office. The council had not been formally notified.
“It’s (the news) disappointing from the point of view that for the past six years, the council has been flogging opportunities for our region, such as an archival and data storage centre, and we’re sneaking ever closer with these and other developments. It all takes time,” he said.
“When something like this is announced by a body over which we have no control, it creates big unemployment numbers in one fell swoop. It’s very sad and it goes to show the impact of these large employers.”
The mayor said only two weeks ago staff were proudly showing off the centre during his visit as part of the drought appeal, to which workers had donated.
But the council is not lying down. Cr Kirk said he and management planned to lobby Coles for one of the automated DCs to be located in Goulburn.
“They have to go somewhere and we have the space and the place (the existing centre) which could possibly be adapted,” he said.
“We have the connectivity and (transport) network and there’s no reason why we can’t be considered. Let’s ask the question.. There may be the opportunity to retain quite a slice of the employment numbers.”
The Coles spokesperson confirmed the automated facilities would be built on yet to be selected greenfield sites.
They would include “cutting-edge technology” enabling deliveries to be tailored to specific aisles within a store, making stock replenishment quicker and easier.
They’re designed to underpin Coles’ expansion. More than 40 new stores are proposed across NSW and Queensland over the next four years.
He said staff would be kept updated on closure dates as the company learned more. In addition, Coles would be consulting with the council and state and federal governments.
The company did not answer questions on what redundancy provisions and work opportunities elsewhere would be put in place for employees. He said it was very early days.
But in a statement Coles said $130 million to $150m would be provided in the 2019 financial year for overall redundancies and exit costs.
Dr Stephens says strategic thinking is essential for Goulburn.
“It gives us time as a community to develop a long-term economic plan to ameliorate the effect and create new jobs because the impact will be significant,” she said.
“There is no economic development officer at the council so there is no strategic approach. We need to pull together bodies like the Canberra Joint Regional Organisation of Councils, Regional Development Australia (Southern Inland) and the Chamber of Commerce to see how we can be smarter in our response.”
She said she had already asked Chamber president Mark Bradbury to convene a meeting to discuss the closure and to help coordinate a strategy helping workers transition to other jobs.
Dr Stephens believed the number of affected staff was closer to 300, including drivers and indoor and outdoor employees.
“That centre has been under a cloud for a while. They haven’t been putting on permanents and there are a lot of people on contract. They haven’t had certainty,” she said.
She also plans to raise the matter with NSW Labor leader Luke Foley. Dr Stephens pointed out that Mr Foley had pledged the $4 billion sale proceeds from the Snowy Hydro scheme would be invested in the regions.
The council’s planned push to secure an automated DC for Goulburn follows a consultant’s study into the freight and logistics sector’s potential here. It concluded that the city was too far from Sydney to become a distribution centre for the urban area. It also cited imminent completion of intermodal terminals in western Sydney.
But rather than abandon any hopes of developing the sector, as staff had recommended, councillors at Tuesday night’s meeting decided to defer action until current investigations by the South East Australian Transport Strategy and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation of Councils had been completed.
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