Woolworths Illawarra butchers get the chop as cold cuts continue

CHOP CHOP: The Fresh Food People are getting rid of their in-store Illawarra butchers and selling more packaged meat.
CHOP CHOP: The Fresh Food People are getting rid of their in-store Illawarra butchers and selling more packaged meat.

Almost all of Woolworths’ in-store butchers across the Illawarra will soon be cut from their trade positions as the supermarket giant continues its push towards more pre-packaged meat.

The butchers, a symbol of the “fresh food people”, have been given three weeks to decide whether they want another job in the supermarket, or leave the chain.

For a trade butcher, a different position involves a pay cut of about $5 an hour.

Woolworths confirmed about 30 “meat team members” would be affected in the Illawarra.

The wife of one Woollies butcher said staff were being kept in the dark about who would stay on.

“All the butchers will be gone – except at Warilla. They’re going to have this tiny little section with a butcher. But not the other stores,” she said.

She would would not be named for fear her husband would lose his job if she spoke out.

“All the meat is going to be coming out of bags – it’s coming from a wholesaler in Victoria,” she said.

Your meat inspiration at the major supermarkets will now be provided by cardboard cut-outs of Curtis Stone or Jamie Oliver

Matt Swindells

“It makes me cranky. They know what they’re doing to their staff but they’re not even telling them.

“We’ve got a mortgage, we don’t know what we’ll do.”

The move to “offsite meat production” has been occurring across Australia.

A Woolworths spokesman said this would not affect the company’s model of being the “fresh food people”, as quality would “improve” as would consistency.

“We're transitioning from in-store production to case-ready meat supply in around 30 southern New South Wales stores as part of our efforts to offer customers improved consistency in quality and availability of fresh meat products,” he said.

”As part of this transition some roles within store meat departments will be discontinued and we're working closely with affected team members on redeployment opportunities across the business.”

The move may not be one welcomed by the supermarket giants’ customers.

Meat is an important “basket driver”, according to former Coles executive Matt Swindells, now CEO of meat company Tasman Butchers.

“Quality and service are reinforced by having a butcher in store,” Mr Swindells told Fairfax Media in 2016 when the packaged meat drive began. Your meat inspiration at the major supermarkets will now be provided by cardboard cut-outs of Curtis Stone or Jamie Oliver.”