Coles and Woolworths, the supermarket behemoths that together account for 61 percent of Australia’s grocery market, have announced thousands of jobs cuts and plans to reduce wages.
The supermarket bosses, who last year enjoyed combined profits of more than $3.2 billion, are concerned about what they describe as “wage pressure”: new agreements signed over the last two years that have restored award-level minimum penalty rates for Saturdays and night work. At Coles, the restoration of award conditions has won $84 million extra paid out to workers annually, and $66 million at Woolworths, according to analysis by Citi Group.
In response, Coles and Woolworths have decided to tighten the screws. Woolworths announced on 3 June that it was undertaking a “restructure” that will abolish multiple department manager roles across stores. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union secretary Josh Cullinan said that some 10,000 redundancies have been issued nationwide, with fewer and lower-paid jobs offered to replace them.
“Woolworths is saying that there’s no net job losses but what that means, we think, is [that] about 2,000 to 3,000 will end up being only offered effectively a store team member role. So being moved out of full-time salaried work and then only offered a role which might be casual or part-time and certainly on a much lower hourly rate.”
While Coles is not undertaking a “spill and fill” like Woolworths, it has set a $1 billion “savings target” to be met by July 2023, which amounts to $250 million annually. The first part of this strategy was sacking 450 workers from the Melbourne head office on 13 June, with future job cuts promised through automation and possibly scrapping deli counters.
Steven Cain, the new chief executive of Coles after the company’s de-merger from Wesfarmers last year, announced this all with a smile. After all, in April he purchased a $4.6 million mansion in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, helped out by his $3.9 million sign-on bonus and annual salary of $2.1 million plus a further $2.5 million in bonuses, according to a report in Domain.
Woolworths’ bosses are also sitting on piles of cash, with CEO Brad Banducci on nearly $8 million a year and Claire Peters, managing director of supermarkets, on $4.3 million. Banducci’s pay soared nearly $2.5 million last year alone. A Woolworths worker, stacking shelves and working tills full time on nights and weekends, would take 180 years to earn Banducci’s yearly salary.
These parasites heading up some of Australia’s biggest companies are symptomatic of the capitalist system as a whole. While Scott Morrison and all manner of other bootlickers for the system talk about the bosses as “job creators”, in fact capitalism is a job-destroying machine. After they announced that thousands of workers would be discarded, Woolworths’ and Coles’ share prices rose 6.6 and 4.5 percent respectively in the ensuing days.
Banducci, Cain and all their ilk live in luxury precisely because they are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain profits. The bosses who pocket billions will throw thousands of people out of work and ratchet up the pressure on those left behind to fill the gaps, simply to stop their profits from dipping a couple of percent and to teach a lesson to workers who demand their entitlements.