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VIC supermarkets and food distribution centres return to full capacity

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the return of full staffing levels within some Melbourne distribution centres following seven weeks of Stage 4 lockdown restrictions. Industry confronted by national and local stock constraints are calling for further improvements to restrictions in the build-up to the critical Christmas trading period.

After seven weeks following Stage 4 restrictions for Victoria’s supply chain industries, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced an ease on workforce restrictions on Sunday September 27.

Workforce limits have now been expanded in metropolitan Melbourne, with supermarkets and food distribution centres now returning to full capacity.

Manufacturing has increased to 90 per cent of its workforce, previously operating at 80 per cent capacity for the past seven weeks.

Under the Stage 4 restrictions that came into effect at 11.59 August 5, high-risk industries including meat processing, supermarket and medical distribution were restricted to operate on-site within strict guidelines.

Warehousing and distribution centres in Melbourne were limited to no more than two-thirds the normal workforce allowed onsite at any one time.

“Abattoirs, seafood and meat processing plants will  increase, in line with the levels we know are safe,” the Premier said in a statement on Sunday.

“At the same time, and recognising the increased risk in some of these environments, there’ll be additional obligations for employers, including regular surveillance testing of staff, nightly deep cleaning, separating workers into consistent bubbles, and providing regular training for their workers,” he said.

COMPETING WITH INTERSTATE

Victorian Ai Group Head Tim Piper said the Group welcomes sensible changes to manufacturing arrangements, meat processing and abattoir arrangements in metro and regional areas and to the food distribution wholesaling employee numbers.

However, Tim said that despite the positive steps that have been taken, the Roadmap leaves some manufacturers and distributors unable to compete with their interstate colleagues because of the employee numbers restriction remaining.

“While the community will welcome the abolition of the curfew, there will be long-term implications from the impact of the overly harsh restrictions for many businesses in terms of their continued existence, to the desire to invest in Victoria and their ability to employ people,” he said.

The Premier also announced that the transition to the third step has been brought forward by one week from 26, to 19 October, subject to the daily average case number over 14 days being less than five statewide and with less than five cases from an unknown source. The curfew has also been abolished from 11.59pm September 27.

Paul Guerra, Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive said it’s a good start for 130,000 Victorians who will head back to the workplace, but the task now is to get remaining industries back to work.

EASING THE BURDEN BEFORE CHRISTMAS

The return of full staffing levels within distribution centres will lessen the burden for retailers confronted by national and local stock constraints.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the modest easing of restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne, with staffing levels returning to normal with additional Covid safety protocols in place.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the ARA has been intensely calling for this outcome for a number of weeks as a top priority to ease congestion for retailers in the build-up to the critical Christmas trading period.

“As Victoria is a central point for distribution and freight for many national operations, getting these centres back to capacity now will have an impact not only on the retail industry in Victoria, but nationally.”

Paul called the other outcomes for retail from today’s Step Two announcements ‘positive, but modest.’

“We are pleased to see infection rates significantly reduced and note that the current levels are equal to or lower than infection levels within NSW during August when retail was open in that state,” he said.

“We remain deeply concerned about the closure of retail until mid to late October at the earliest – that is simply too close to Christmas trading to allow viable retail activity.”

He said industry is looking forward to more financial support being made available to Melbourne metropolitan retailers whose businesses have been devastated by these prolonged closures.

“The Premier has indicated that budget announcements will deliver some further support. The current measures are only adequate for small retailers. And without further assistance for the larger businesses, we unfortunately could see many store closures,” he said.

FEDERAL RESPONSE

As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world.

The Morrison Government has delivered more than $27 billion in economic support to Victorians during this crisis and has extended JobKeeper for another six months which is estimated to see an additional $16.8 billion be paid to Victorians in the December and March quarters.

Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said in a statement that easing restrictions in Victoria in a COVIDsafe way is vitally important so that more Victorians can get back to work and resume their normal lives.

“The removal of the curfew, the ability of sole traders to operate garden maintenance and related services and the improvements in supermarket capacity and manufacturing are all welcome,” he said.

“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions.”

He noted that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining Covidsafe due to a world class contact tracing facility.

“The Government will continue to support Victorians during these challenging times.”

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