COVID causing supply disruptions, workers shortage and excessive workload at Woolies

“I feel like I’m thrown into a bottomless pit by this Covid with no end insight.”

Barrie Herbert

Supermarket giant Woolworths is once again dealing with a number of supply and demand issues as the Covid’s new variant, Omicron cases keep on skyrocketing everyday in the country causing mayhem in the stores.

All of the Woolies Customer Facilitation Centre (CFCs), including the online store in Brookvale, Northern Sydney, is bearing the brunt of never ending pandemic with many staff members testing positive everyday and a surge in demand for online orders.

Ms. Natalie Dougal, who is the night shift supervisor in Brookvale said, “we’re short-staffed now and trying to do the job as best as we can but it’s really saddening to not getting over it and live our normal lives as before”.

Shift Supervisor Natalie Dougal in Woolies Brookvale. Photo: Ashar Khan

“It’s just chaotic in here, getting back home fully knackered after work and then again come to work is taking a toll on my mental health.”

Natalie Dougal

Almost half of the company’s truck drivers are absent making it short of supply and in many stores, shortages are not only causing by panic buying, but by delay in supply chain difficulties and deliveries. The company is also experiencing supply delays from local and small businesses due to the virus, making many of its shelves empty.

Doing a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) before commencing shifts is compulsory for all of Woolies staff. And after recording thousands of cases each day consecutively, nobody seems safe with this new strain.

“Just few days before, everyday the nurses here have to send 5 to 10 workers back home as they return positive results on RAT test. And often people working here are close friends or living together, so we have to send these close contacts with them back home and tell to self isolate which is why we’re getting short-staffed”, said Ms. Dougal.

“But thanks to the new rules and definition of close contacts in NSW, we’re getting back and now we don’t have to return workers if they’re asymptomatic or have already got Covid.” she said.

Online orders in progress to deliver. Photo: Ashar Khan

Though on the brighter side of the business, Woolies has seen a big boom of almost 75% in online sales as customers are now preferring to buy from these e-stores both during and post-COVID lockdowns in 2021. The annual report suggested that the company made $3.5 billion worth of online sales during the year.

Junalyn Badua who is a registered nurse from Philippines and working at Brookvale RAT testing station believes the number of positive cases are far higher than recorded each day. “Even here, sometimes people do not use the nasal swab correctly returning negative results while they are actually infected”.

Nurse Junalyn Badua with Woolies Staff. Photo Supplied

“I’ve seen workers here who tested negative prior to their shifts and after 3 4 hours during their shifts, they feel unwell, and when they do the test again, it comes positive.”

One of Woolies full-time worker Barrie Herbert said he has no choice but to work extra hours on top of his usual shift as the company is getting tight on staff, with cases beyond control.

Barrie Herbert stacking up shelves. Photo: Ashar Khan

“If someone tests positive here then that means 7-days of isolation and we have to cover him/her during that period and when everyday there are a bunch of people getting COVID then it gets really hard for us to manage”.

Woolworths boss Brand Banducci has also indicated that supply disruptions will likely continue for another fortnight or so as the staff shortage in all of its distribution centres hits an all-time high of between 20 to 40 percent.

Ms. Dougal also told Hatch that Woolies have now introduced a lesser cap on accepting the number of orders due to the extra workload which is a bit relieving for them. “The toughest time for us was the Christmas period when we’ve had spiking sales and cases were at its peak.” she said.

With many of the drivers now gone or isolating, the company has to outsource its workers to fulfil the customer’s needs.