Australia Markets closed

People are outraged as Woolworths push to have staff work on Christmas

A Woolworths store in Sydney, Australia. <em>Photo: Getty</em>
A Woolworths store in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Getty

Woolworths workers and customers are “shocked” by the supermarket giant’s new push for staff to work on Christmas Day.

In past years the supermarket completely shut down on Christmas Day, but this year NSW stores are seeking permission from the Department of Industrial Relations to allow staff members to go in and pack shelves, replenishing stock in time for when it reopens on Boxing Day.

Staff can volunteer to work for five hours on Christmas morning.

Woolworths has been slammed for the decision, with some even vowing to boycott the store if it makes some employees work.

“If you make your staff restock shelves or unpack boxes on Xmas Day I will not enter your store between Xmas and New Year,” a disgruntled customer wrote on Facebook.

A worker expressed outrage on Facebook, saying: “This must and cannot happen”.

“Bloody disgusting Woolies. So ashamed to be working there,” she said.

Bernie Smith, the NSW/ACT branch secretary of retail workers’ union SDA, told Yahoo News they were calling for the government to reject the submission and Woolworths to withdraw it.

“This year thousands of people will have to work over Christmas. Boxing Day is bad enough, we want that returned to the people of NSW,” he said.

“Woolworths has gone one step further and wants thousands of workers behind closed doors on Christmas Day.”

Mr Smith said Woolworths’ push for employees to stack shelves on Christmas Day went against everything the supermarket giant promoted during the holidays.

“It sells the idea that Christmas is about big family gatherings but they are saying to their own employees that other people can enjoy the day but we need you here to pack shelves,” he said.

“People at 5am should be woken up by their kids to open presents, not struggling to pack shelves.”

Woolworths says employees are not forced to work

Woolworths said more than 38,000 team members were employed across NSW, many of whom wanted the opportunity to earn public holiday rates on Christmas Day.

Woolworths told Yahoo News in a statement stores were not seeking to trade on Christmas Day and team members would decide if they wanted to work.

“We fully respect the right of team members to enjoy Christmas Day with loved ones and never compel anyone to work who doesn’t wish to do so,” the supermarket said.

The stock replenishment Christmas Day shift is allowed in every other state in Australia except NSW.

“We’re seeking permission from NSW Industrial Relations to receive and unpack goods in our stores for five hours on Christmas morning to help replenish our shelves for customers on Boxing Day,” Woolworths said in the statement.

“This type of stock replenishment activity is permitted on public holidays in all other states and territories.”

Customers said working on Christmas Day should be optional as some might not celebrate Christmas and want to earn public holiday rates.

Employees ‘will feel pressured to work’

Mr Smith told Yahoo News workers were shocked by the push and despite it being voluntary, many would feel pressured to put their hand up to work on Christmas Day.

“There is no benefit of additional trading on Christmas Day, there’s no profit, and members feel pressured to work and feel like they can’t say no,” he said.

“There will be real pressure on people, casual and part-timers. Those at the highest level of the company say it’s voluntary but as it goes down the line the pressure to work becomes immense.”

Mr Smith said workers needed both Christmas Day and Boxing Day off so they had enough time to visit loved ones safely or recharge before the busy period after the public holidays.

Woolworths said it if did not receive a sufficient number of volunteers from a certain store, it would offer team members from other stores the opportunities.

If there are not enough volunteers, Woolworths simply will not have workers packing shelves in store on Christmas Day.