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Coles workers, activists picket supermarket's AGM

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union has gone on strike and protested outside the Coles annual meeting.



More than 50 Coles workers, unionists and activists have staged a protest outside the Coles annual meeting calling for higher wages, more security in stores and an end to what they describe as price gouging.


About 200 members of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union in Victoria went on strike on Friday while an extra 400 in other states held shorter stoppages, according to the union.


"Workers are paid poverty wages in unsafe workplaces, they've got insecure jobs and we need that to change," union secretary Josh Cullinan told reporters at the demonstration in Melbourne.


"Our members can't afford the groceries that they sell."


He said the strike was purposefully staged on the day of the annual meeting and was critical of the gathering being held in a complex protected by police and security guards when ordinary workers didn't have that level of safety.


Coles worker and union delegate Nelio Da Silva said a lot of staff at his store were struggling and abuse against workers was on the rise.


"The $1.1 billion in profit Coles has made, that needs to be shared around amongst workers, the community, everyone," Mr Da Silva said.


Victorian Greens MP Sam Hibbins also attended the protest and ramped up calls for the state government to implement price controls.


Chairman James Graham told the meeting Coles had 120,000 team members and that the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union represented around 500 of them.


Coles was negotiating with the union in good faith, as it would with any representative for its workers, he said.


"Because we need to have a positive and supportive relationships with our team members, in order that we can conduct our business in a way which we're proud of, and our customers enjoy and feel comfortable with," Mr Graham said.


Twice-yearly surveys that Coles conducts of its team members found that most are positive, confident and proud to recommend Coles, he said.


"But there will be inevitably be issues ... and we'll work those issues through."


Chief executive Leah Weckert told the meeting that during 2022/23, Coles reduced prices through multiple dropped and locked sales campaigns.


With Christmas around the corner, it has a curated 349-product Christmas range focused on providing value at every price point, she said.


Ms Weckert also highlighted efforts to modernise its supply chain with a new automated distribution centre in Redbank, Queensland, that opened in April, supplying room-temperature groceries to 219 stores as far away as Laurieton, NSW and Port Douglas, Qld.


Still not yet fully operational, the warehouse spans 66,000 square metres, making it one of the biggest automated distribution centres in the world, she said.


"This the single biggest capital investment and technology investment in Coles' history," she said.


Mr Graham said the Redbank warehouse might move three million packages a week in the lead-up to Christmas.


Another automated distribution centre in Kemps Creek, NSW is expected to receive its first groceries early next year, with a new customer fulfilment centre for e-commerce orders to come online in mid-2024, Ms Weckert said.


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