In what has become a typical pattern by employers, Woolworths sent a text message to the 680 workers at its distribution centre in Broadmeadows on June 9 to inform them that the warehouse would be closed down in 2018.
The company intends to replace the warehouse with a state of the art warehouse that it intends to build on the other side of the city in the outer south-east. The company claims that the new warehouse will be almost totally be operated by robots.
With the March 2015 unemployment rate in Broadmeadows running at 23.5%, and with the Ford Broadmeadows plant due to close next year, the National Union of Workers launched a jobs campaign at a public meeting on August 5.
Around 150 people attended the public meeting, the majority being employees of the Woolworths Hume Distribution Centre.
National Union of Workers state secretary Gary Maas told the crowd Woolworths had received $62 billion in revenue last year and receives tax incentives from the federal government to provide “secure” jobs.
Maas said that it had been difficult to get information from the company about why it was planning to shift to a warehouse across town when it had only recently upgraded the existing warehouse.
Tarek Soueid is the afternoon shift delegate at the Hume Distribution Centre. He has worked on the site for 19 years. He said workers are mystified about why Woolworths doesn't just build a new warehouse in the north.
Soueid said that “other big companies have walked away from the north — Hard Yakka and Ford. We need jobs in the north.”
Soueid said that shortly after the company announced the closure of the warehouse, management began trying to replace afternoon shift workers with casual workers.
During discussion, several people said that they thought Woolworths’ real motive for closing the warehouse was to de-unionise the new plant. The Hume Distribution Centre has the best wages and conditions of all Woolworths distribution centres nationally.
Delegations of workers from the Coles-Somerton distribution centre and from the Liquor distribution centre in Laverton also attended.
Other speakers at the forum included federal Labor MPs Kelvin Thomson and Maria Vamvakinou and Melanie Raymond from Youth Projects.
NUW has launched an online petition to save the warehouse and the jobs.
All photos by Kieran Bennett