Despite the easing of requirements for close contacts who work in the food and logistics industries interstate, the ACT could be dealing with the knock-on effects of disrupted supply chains, particularly for meat and poultry, and vegetables and fruit, for some weeks.
Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said this morning (11 January) that supply is currently “patchy” and “intermittent” and varies across states and stores.
He said another fortnight of disruption should be expected but called for calm.
Mr Banducci and other industry representatives have welcomed new guidelines – announced yesterday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and already being enforced in Victoria, Queensland and NSW – saying they would help keep supply chains moving.
Under the new guidelines, fully vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts who return a negative rapid antigen test working in supply chain industries will be allowed to return to work.
Mr Morrison wants more industries to be included in the guidelines as well.
The majority of food and produce entering the ACT for the major supermarkets comes from interstate distribution centres, many of which are in Western Sydney.
According to Mr Banducci, the changes would largely impact workers in these centres, where between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of staff were missing from work due to COVID.
He explained it was a matter of ensuring products could be moved from the distribution centres to be cleared and then restocked into stores.
“There is enough product in the supply chain and it is just a question of getting the flow right,” he said. Low staffing numbers in distribution centres mean truck drivers queue longer for produce.
The Transport Workers’ Union said yesterday a third to a half of all of the country’s truck drivers are currently off work due to COVID-related issues.
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The red meat industry warned the Federal Government of the looming shortages due to a lack of workers last week.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented wave of staffing unpredictability. As COVID spreads in the community, our industry workers are unable to present for work for at least seven days should someone in their family or household test positive under the current national COVID protocol,” Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said in a statement.
“In some instances, we are hearing that under 30 per cent of rostered workers have presented for work,” he said.
Yesterday, Mr Hutchinson welcomed the announcement to allow more workers back to work.
“The situation will now be managed by employers working closely with staff to ensure responsible and common-sense action prevails,” Mr Hutchinson said.
However, he called for more rapid antigen tests to be made available to ensure a safer workplace for those in the industry.
Ainslie IGA owner Manuel Xyrakis said that his supermarket had also been affected, although not to the same degree as major suppliers.
His goods are largely sourced from Metcash, which has also been affected by logistics issues, “but we’re not out of a whole range of things”, he told Region Media.
“We may not have a particular brand of pasta, but there are plenty of alternatives. There is certainly a problem with meat and the supply of chicken in particular. What we normally sell in four days we sold out yesterday and the egg section is shot to bits.”
Fruit and vegetable supply has not been affected. However, Mr Xyrakis said he’d noticed some tension among customers over possible shortages and he’s asked one person to return some of the large quantity of meat they were buying.
“I’ve been here for 58 years and never in my life thought that I’d be asking people to buy less, not more. We’ve tried to avoid putting limits on purchases because, psychologically, we think people will buy without even wanting to. I don’t think people are panic buying, but they’re doing a large shop so they don’t have to be here every day.”
COVID has hit the deli staff, and Mr Xyrakis said his family had been working 60-hour weeks to cover shortages over the Christmas period.