On Tuesday, as Joe Hockey told struggling Australians all they needed to do to afford a roof over their head was to “get a job that pays good money”, workers at Woolworths Hume Distribution Centre in the northern suburbs of Melbourne were informed that their shed will be closing, and that most of them would be losing their jobs.
That’s over 500 workers who will be out of work by 2018.
Following the closure of sites like Ford in Broadmeadows – and good, union manufacturing jobs across the northern suburbs – the workforce at Woolworths, their families, and their community are left wondering what happens next, and from where hope for the future will come.
Woolworths is one of Australia's largest employers. It occupies a privileged place in the Australian economy. Unfortunately Woolworths is focused on cold efficiency, which will see much of its human workforce replaced by an automated one.
Woolworths could build a new facility in the north, where so many workers have shown them loyalty for the last 20 years, but have chosen to relocate their warehouse to the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
While it is commonly understood that social and community responsibility does not necessarily form part of the decision-making for corporate giants such as Woolworths, this is still an unsettling fact for many of us. When things like this happen – we still think, that’s just so unfair.
Woolworths will simply facilitate a transition that will see secure workers become unemployed, and move on to operations elsewhere. Like pieces on a chess board, communities are left behind with opportunities taken away from current and future generations.
While we might expect governments to help to address the problem of rising unemployment and the damage this is doing to communities of once thriving industries all over the country, unfortunately new job opportunities aren’t replacing the old ones. And where there are new jobs in our industries today, they are increasingly insecure and casual.
No longer does a job mean safety, security, a chance to provide for a family. Too many NUW members work long hours under tough conditions, only to feel anxious about surviving, let alone being able to apply for a loan to purchase a home.
I would ask Joe Hockey where are all those good paying jobs – the ones that provide the security to be able to buy a home?
Will Joe come out to the northern suburbs of Melbourne and speak to the generations of workers who contribute to this country while being suffocated by the cost of living and increasing risk in their employment?
And finally, why does his government continue to attack unions when it is unionised jobs that provide secure employment and statistically have better wages and conditions.
* Gary Maas is the Victorian Secretary of the National Union of Workers.
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