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Coles is considering removing in-store butchers from some of its supermarkets.
Under a proposal to restructure the meat department, Coles is looking at selling more pre-packaged meat and instead "redeploying" in-store butchers and other meat workers in its supermarkets.
However the Queensland branch secretary of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union, Matt Journeaux, told ABC Radio Brisbane the plan would be "devastating".
"A lot of these [Coles] butchers have been there for 20 and 30 years — some in excess of 30 years," Mr Journeaux said.
"So this is absolutely devastating if these people are made redundant. Obviously that industry knowledge and that ability to look after customers goes with them."
Mr Journeaux said many butchers employed by Coles had undergone four-year apprenticeships and a redeployment would be a "fairly large backwards step".
"I think people will make a decision based on Coles' proposed position to go to 'retail-ready' and hopefully it will see more meat sales with private butchers' shops," he told the ABC.
Coles employs about 1200 people in its meat departments, with the union adding the change could come into effect as soon as October.
However Coles is reportedly yet to make a final decision on whether the changes will occur.
Coles proposal sparks fury among customers
The proposal to axe in-store butchers has infuriated Coles customers, with some calling for a boycott of the supermarket.
"I think this is a stupid decision by Coles," one wrote on Facebook.
"We should be supporting small business anyway," another said.
One man who claimed to be a butcher at Coles wrote he would not be in the position he was in without his employment at the supermarket.
"I've bought a house, had three children, learned life skills that a lot of people could only dream of and live very comfortably," he said.
Another woman commented her son was a butcher at Coles and her thoughts were with those affected as he would be made redundant.
Coles will work with affected team members
A Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia it would engage in consultation with its employees.
"We are considering a proposal to align our meat operating models nationally in our stores, so that we can consistently deliver high quality retail-ready meat for our customers whenever they want to shop," the Coles spokesperson said.
"Under the proposal, our fresh meat range would be supplied to stores as retail-ready products, and would not require any preparation to be carried out in-store before being placed on the shelves of our meat fridges for customers to buy.
"Over the coming weeks we will continue to engage in consultation on these proposed changes with affected meat team members as well as their union representatives.
"If a decision is made to proceed with the proposal, we will work with affected team members to assess potential redeployment and retraining opportunities within Coles."
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