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Warehouse workers act on health and safety

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Severe safety concerns resulted in hundreds of workers walking off the job at Melbourne’s Woolworths Hume Distribution Centre on Monday January 11, 2016. The safety issue arose after a fire had ignited at a neighbouring tyre recycling facility in the northern metropolitan suburb of Broadmeadows.

The fire, which saw a thick covering of smoke ascending across the industrial region, had commenced shortly before 9am. By 12:30pm a change in wind direction had forced toxic fumes from the stockpile of 150,000 disused rubber tyres into the Distribution Centre.

In response to the occupational health and safety hazard, workers departed the workplace after a swift response from Union Delegates and Health and Safety Representatives in the warehouse. 

In an attempt to keep production flowing, management insisted workers take their offer of a paper dust mask to continue working on-site. After it was pointed out that the firefighters attending to the blaze were in full breathing apparatus, workers unanimously agreed the site was no longer safe to continue work.

More than one hundred firefighters were needed to contain the blaze, at a time when the firefighters and their union, the United Firefighters Union, are pitched in a battle over safe working conditions with the Victorian Andrews Labor Government.

The workers, members of the National Union of Workers, supply more than 200 supermarkets across suburban Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Recognised as a militant union site following the NUW members ability to secure the highest wages across the Woolworths supply chain, alongside some of the best conditions in the logistics industry, the latest action commences an uncertain new year for the Distribution Centre workers who are faced with a redundancy process as the company prepares to scale down production at its Broadmeadows based facility, a suburb already decimated through job losses and factory closures. 

As was reported in Vanguard  in July of 2015, Woolworths announced their major Victorian Distribution Centre would cease operation, to be replaced with a new automated warehouse in Lyndhurst, located in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.


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