The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union has slammed a move by Coles to axe almost 1600 butcher and meat packer positions at its supermarkets across the country.
Coles has announced that its meat will soon be prepared at a third-party facility before being transported to its stores, meaning more than 1570 positions will become redundant by October 11.
Coles, which has a national workforce of more than 120,000 people and earlier this month reported a profit of more than $1 billion, defended the decision to make its meat departments more "retail ready", saying it would offer "redeployment and retraining opportunities" for affected staff.
But AMIEU Newcastle branch secretary Justin Smith said butchers and meat packers at Coles had paid the price for the grocery giant's push to get workers on to the "supermarket agreement" and off the "meat agreement", which he said had better wages and conditions.
"Some of these people have worked at Coles for 30 or 40 years. I was talking to one guy who's got 700 hours of sick leave built up and now he's being treated like this," Mr Smith said.
"It's a shocking time to be made redundant. It's a real kick in the guts.
"These people are highly skilled at what they do and it's going to be customers that suffer as a result of this decision."
AMIEU acting federal secretary Matt Journeaux said while the decision "might save money and put more profit in shareholders' pockets", it will do "very little for consistency of product, quality and customer service".
A Coles spokesperson told the Newcastle Herald the decision was made to "meet the changing needs of our customers".
"In line with Coles' commitment to provide our customers with the best quality food and drinks, in recent years we have invested in state-of-the-art facilities and worked with supplier partners to produce retail-ready fresh Australian meat of the highest standards for our stores," the spokesperson said.
"We are aligning our meat operating models nationally in our stores, so that we can consistently deliver high quality retail ready meat for our customers whenever they want to shop.
"The change will mean our fresh meat range will be supplied to stores as retail-ready products and will not require any preparation to be carried out in-store before being placed on the shelves of our meat fridges for customers to buy.
"We are working with affected team members to assess potential redeployment and retraining opportunities within Coles."