Josh Cullinan, secretary of the activist Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, said some of his members were long-term casuals at supermarkets and had seen sharp reductions in their hours.
“We have members who were regularly working 12 to 20 hours a week who have [no shifts] and other workers who were doing three or four shifts and now they’re down to one,” Mr Cullinan said.
He said there were several reasons why workers could be receiving fewer shifts: stores opening fewer hours, working fewer staff harder or they had more staff but had reverted to regular demand.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, a larger union, said it had received complaints from both long-term casuals and recent hires.
Its national secretary, Gerard Dwyer, said he could not see a pattern to the complaints, which varied as “managers work to manage rapid fluctuations in demand from shoppers”.
A Woolworths spokesman said the company had given jobs to 20,000 Australians, many of whom were at risk of dropping out of the workforce as their primary employers stood down staff in response to government restrictions.
“We were upfront about the short-term nature of these roles because we knew the surge in customer demand across our group’s stores wouldn’t last forever,” the spokesman said in comments Coles also echoed.
“As trading patterns continue to normalise, we’ll have fewer hours to offer than we did a couple of months ago,” the Woolworths spokesman said.
He said some casual team members were starting to return to their main employers as COVID-19 restrictions started to lift.
A Coles spokesman said the company was not considering employees’ tenure when deciding on shifts.
Hatch, a student jobs platform that pivoted to finding roles for stood-down workers two months ago, has noted a drop in demand after placing 600 employees. Co-founder Adam Jacobs said demand had spiked in areas such as logistics and warehousing but quietened since.
“I think what’s happened in the last month is either those needs have been fulfilled, or there hasn’t been the ongoing spike of change that’s occurred,” Mr Jacobs said. He added there had been a second “slow burn” wave of demand for IT roles as companies tried to increase their online sales.
Anthony Heraghty, chief executive of Super Retail Group, which operates Supercheap Auto, Rebel, Macpac and BCF and employs about 12,000 people across the country, said a number of his casual staff were now returning to work after taking up shifts offered at Woolworths.
“Those casual hours have started to return throughout May,” he said. “Woolworths did a great job interfacing with us and other businesses. It was a nice ‘Team Australia’ moment.”
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.
Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.