Virus cases mount at Woolies sites

Frustrated workers at Woolworths distribution centre in Melbourne’s southeast have been offered overtime shifts before they were told about positive coronavirus cases at the warehouses.

Despite the company having all employees mobile numbers to send texts offering extra work, staff said they had been left in the dark about multiple virus cases at the Mulgrave sites and relied on colleagues and media reports to keep them informed.

Two more positive cases were confirmed in contractors working at Woolworths’ Melbourne National Distribution Centre on Saturday morning, taking the total to four, while there has also been one case at the adjacent produce distribution centre.

It’s understood two more produce staff also received a positive test result on Saturday afternoon.

Produce warehouse staff were sent texts offering overtime shifts for Friday, Saturday and Sunday to fill staff shortages after dozens of workers went home or cancelled their shift after the announcement of the positive case.

NCA Newswire has been told at least a handful of produce distribution centre workers have been required to isolate following close contact with an infected colleague, while a number of others are awaiting test results.

A Woolworths spokesman said it was standard practice to offer overtime shifts to cover for potential team shortages.

He said team talks were conducted at the start of every shift and notices were posted in the workplace to ensure all team members were aware of the latest information on coronavirus cases before starting work.

“This approach allows us to address any questions or concerns team members may have face-to-face,” he said.

Woolworths also suspended operations at the distribution centres between 11pm and 6am to conduct detailed forensic cleaning. The forensic cleaning will now be done twice a week.

It came after employees were growing increasingly frustrated that Woolworths had refrained from closing the sites completely for deep cleaning despite the increasing cases.

One worker had questioned why Woolworths was exempt from shutting down for deep cleaning when other big companies, retail stores and schools closed for at least a day for cleaning when a positive case was confirmed.

NCA Newswire has also been told some full time workers were refusing to come to work over how the situation had been handled.

The company spokesman said both new cases were picked up through proactive voluntary testing offered to staff at the sites.

He said at this stage they didn’t believe the workers had been in close contact with any other staff at the MNDC but investigations were continuing.

It’s also not yet known whether the employees contracted the virus at work or at home.

All of the company’s Victorian distribution centres remain open and continue to dispatch stock deliveries to stores as normal.

The spokesman said the risk of transmission to other staff at the sites was low given the social distancing and hygiene controls already in place.

“We’re informing our team members about both cases and will provide our full support to anyone required to self-isolate in line with advice from the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said.

The company continues to offer workers voluntary COVID-19 testing multiple times a week and have been conducting detailed cleaning across all high-touch areas four times a day for a number of weeks.

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