Coles will be undertaking a controversial in-store change this weekend, after announcing that all butchers and meat packers roles will be made redundant.
The initial announcement, which was made in August, reported that over 1,570 workers will be affected across Australia in response to this change, and that alternative employment, or redundancy, will be offered.
From Monday morning, customers can expect to see more pre-packaged meat products in store, with a small minority of stores still operating meat counters.
“The change will mean our fresh meat range will be supplied to stores as retail-ready products and will not require any preparation to be carried out in-store before being placed on the shelves of our meat fridges for customers to buy,” a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
The Coles spokesperson has also told Yahoo News that the change was made after investment in state of the art facilities.
“In recent years we have invested in state-of-the-art facilities and worked with supplier partners to produce retail-ready fresh Australian meat of the highest standards for our stores,” the spokesperson said.
“To help us meet the changing needs of our customers, we are aligning 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 spokesperson also shed some light on changes that customers and team members can expect in store.
“Prior to making our decision to proceed with these changes, we engaged in consultation with affected meat team members as well as their union representatives,” the spokesperson said.
Coles's major supermarket competitor Woolworths has previously undertaken a similar restructure.
‘Bad choice’: Coles customers blast meat change
Coles customers have taken to social media to express their disappointment with Coles’s decision to make most of their qualified butchers and meat packers redundant.
Posting to Coles’s official Facebook page, a disgruntled customer claimed that her meat was not prepared correctly.
“Already seeing a drop in quality with the switch from onsite butcher to pre-packaged meat,” the Victorian customer wrote.
“I bought a pack of Eye Fillet steak which, after cooking, we realised hadn’t been trimmed properly.”
“My piece was absolutely riddled with sinew and I couldn’t eat approximately a third of the steak,” she said.
In response to a previous Yahoo News article detailing the in-store restructure, Facebook users commented that they were far from impressed with the change.
“I won’t buy deli meat that’s already packaged, I want meat that’s freshly packed,” said one person.
“Bad choice I’m afraid - why not buy your meat from a butcher who buys the meat from local farmers?” wrote another.
“I have gone back to a butcher because our deli isn't giving me a choice,” commented a third.
Unions far from impressed with change
The Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) Acting Federal Secretary Matthew Journeaux stated in a scathing letter to members in August that Coles did not inform the union of the intended change, until after Coles employees had received the news.
“The AMIEU is concerned this is a deliberate penny-pinching attack by Coles on hard-working and loyal meat team members, attempting to move them onto a substandard enterprise agreement with lower wages and conditions,” the letter says.
“The AMIEU was only advised about the restructure after our members had been notified by Coles."
SDA Secretary Josh Peak told ABC Radio Adelaide in July that the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association were concerned about the change, and disappointed at the loss of opportunities for those qualified in the butcher trade.
“Butchers in supermarkets were some of the few in the community performing this trade and we’ve communicated to Coles that it’s a really good advantage that they’ve still got butchers in store.”
“We don’t think it’s a positive change and we’re continuing to advocate for the retention of the current arrangements,” he said.
A Coles spokesperson has confirmed with Yahoo News that Coles is supporting affected team members.
“We are working with affected team members to assess potential redeployment and retraining opportunities within Coles,” they said.
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