Victorian Covid crisis prompts steely response to industry pleas

Andrews rejects flexibility on warehousing numbers as infection cases rage

Victorian Covid crisis prompts steely response to industry pleas
Daniel Andrews in easier times


While many Victorian transport and logistics (T&L) operations have escaped total operational lockdown during Stage 4 lockdowns, they will still take a hit at warehousing premises.

The state government may have given a couple of days extra for compliance at metropolitan Melbourne supermarket distribution centres and businesses supplying medicine, pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment, to midnight on Sunday, but other warehouses and DCs state-wide need to be compliant by midnight tonight.

Despite what was reportedly a united front from transport and logistics and related services representatives, which had sought an exemption from having to reduce staff at facilities by a third, the government was unwavering, and sticking firm to the general policy and reminding those present of heavy sanctions for non-compliance.

In a statement of resolve and in the face of a rising death toll, premier Daniel Andrews says: "The Victorian government has worked closely with businesses, industry groups and unions in developing the list of permitted work premises and the business operating reduction guidelines and we are grateful for the input of all stakeholders.

"The decision about where to draw the line on different categories of jobs can never be simple or easy but there is no alternative but to take these steps.

"We must take unprecedented action in limiting the movement of people, and therefore limiting the movement of this virus – to do otherwise would be deadly.

"Unless we drive case numbers down to significantly lower levels, the Victorian economy will not be able to re-open and restrictions would continue indefinitely, forcing the contemplation of a much longer list of shutdowns."

Supermarket DCs within metropolitan Melbourne, like other premises. must:

  • enact a High Risk Covid Safe Plan focused on safety, prevention and response if coronavirus cases are linked to their workplace
  • reduce the number of people working across the supermarket business
  • increase the regularity of deep cleaning
  • enforce the wearing of face coverings by staff on site
  • where practicable COVID Safe Plans should be designed with input from employees and their representatives

Employees will be:

  • prohibited from car-pooling to and from work
  • able to work at only one premises
  • required to inform their employer if they share accommodation with anyone working at another high-risk workplace.

"Supermarket businesses must reduce the number of workers by 33 per cent of their daily peak and daily total workforce within their distribution operations," the government’s Business Victoria (BV) website states, though it is reported the supermarkets have some leeway on how that figure is arrived at.

"To provide flexibility, the number of workers can be reduced through any part of the supermarket business.

"For example, if a supermarket’s daily peak workforce capacity is 300 workers and daily total workforce capacity is 600 workers in its distribution operations – then it must reduce its daily peak workforce capacity by 100 workers and daily total workforce capacity by 200 workers.

"However, these reductions can be made across any part of the supermarket business, not just its distribution operations."

Other specified warehouse and distribution centre worksites must not operate with more than 67 per cent of their daily peak and daily total workforce as of midnight tonight. 

Read about the freight industry’s concerns on Victoria’s Stage 4 lockdowns, here

It adds that the government is introducing a specified worksite reporting regime supported by independent compliance reviews and site inspections.

"The process is being established to ensure the specified worksites comply with the intent of the order and can provide independently verifiable evidence of their compliance during and after the restriction period," BV says.

"Site operators will be randomly selected for independent compliance review and asked to demonstrate compliance with the order.

"To facilitate these compliance reviews which will take place both during and after the Stage 4 restriction period, operators will be required to retain and make available for inspection site rosters, time and attendance data, payroll data and other site attendance records as requested.

"Compliance reviews will be conducted by independent agents appointed by the Victorian Government for this purpose."

Consultation call

Despite the hard line, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has urges the state government to continue engaging industry over the details of restrictions to minimise potential supply chain disruptions.

The ALC welcomed Andrews' announcement "that warehouses and distribution centres for supermarkets and medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) will have longer to implement their requirements"' CEO Kirk Coningham says.

"The extension of that deadline to midnight on Sunday 9 August and the introduction of some other flexibilities will help towards minimising disruption.

"Nonetheless, this remains a very challenging situation – and we strongly urge the Victorian Government to continue working closely with industry to make certain reliable access to everyday items beyond the supermarket and medical supply sectors can be maintained."

"It is important to remember there are national distribution centres located in Victoria that service the requirements of retail outlets across Australia. These centres handle product lines that include clothing, appliances and other everyday retail items.

"The industry remains deeply concerned that the requirement to reduce staffing levels in these Victorian-based warehouses and national distribution centres to 67 per cent of daily total capacity will have a flow on impact beyond Victoria.

"While in-store retail activity in Victoria has been severely curtailed under Stage 4 restrictions, that is not the case nationally. It is important to remember that supply chains do not end at state borders.

"We are particularly concerned that the proposed workforce reduction requirements for the medical and PPE sector risks the supply of critical health care items to the community. 

"In a time of major health crisis, we urge the Victorian government to avoid risking further disruptions to Australia’s health system."

Trade concerns

Shipping, trade and container logistics parties have noted the likely impact on imports and exports.

"There is little doubt that these measures will adversely affect operations and may cause delays in the ability of importers and logistics providers to receive and unload containers," Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) director Paul Zalai informs his members.

"This in turn has the potential to impact the availability of containers for our exporters who are anticipating a significant Spring crop.
"We have received feedback from shipping lines that they would give leniency for container detention (dehire) in the event of a complete lockdown (similar that experienced earlier in the year in New Zealand) however, while trade is moving, they will continue to make commercial assessments on a 'case by case' basis."

Container shipping line representative body Shipping Australia Ltd (SAL) also notes the expected disruption.

"Changes to Stage Four restrictions impacting on the warehousing sector late in the evening of Friday 7 August 2020 may have significant negative impacts on the international logistics sector," CEO Rod Nairn says.

"Warehouses will be required to reduce their staff levels by a third which will impact on their ability to unpack containers and distribute to supermarkets and other retail outlets.

"Even exports will not be immune as the capacity of those warehouses to pack agricultural products into containers will be adversely affected by up to a third.

"Unless we see a productivity miracle, this means we will see a backlog of containers at ports; shortfalls in shipments for exports and the beginning of the end of an efficient international sea freight chain which we have managed which to maintain since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak."


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