Supermarkets win a reprieve to help avert food shortages
Supermarkets have been given a reprieve by the state government which the industry hopes will avert food shortages on shelves.
After warnings a supply shortfall could spark unruly behaviour in supermarket aisles, the government issued guidelines late on Thursday enabling distribution centres to keep operating at full capacity.
Premier Daniel Andrews had ordered warehouses to cut their workforce by 33 per cent by Friday night, causing panic among business chiefs worried their supply chains would not be able to cope with consumer demand.
But after a series of crisis talks, the Premier extended the timeline until Sunday night, with the new guidelines explaining "the number of workers can be reduced through any part of the supermarket business."
The big supermarket chains will meet this rule by asking more support staff to work from home, suspending stocktake activity and cutting back to only urgent maintenance.
Woolworths will also ask vulnerable store workers - those aged over 70 or with medical conditions - to stay home, supporting them with full pay.
Beef, lamb and pork plants have to reduce their operations by a third and poultry producers have to operate at 80 per cent of their normal output.
Mr Andrews indicated shoppers could struggle to find the products they wanted, as Meat and Livestock Australia said beef sales had soared by more than 20 per cent.
"These specific plans are about trying to strike a balance between driving down the number of people that are going to and from work, the number of people who are congregating for work in one place, but also making sure that there is enough food on the shelves," the Premier said.
"There's no need for people to be going out and buying up."
But QV Meat butcher Darren Campbell said his business had slowed and prices would go up.
"We still get most of our meat, but sometimes it will be harder to get, and for some things the price will go up, like lamb back straps are going to go up as of next week," Mr Campbell said.
Victoria Market Seafoods owner Con Lambropoulos said his business wasn't faced with any shortage of supply, but instead faced the opposite problem of being unable to shift the product.
"We provide to north, south, east, west -- people come from everywhere for us, and now they can't travel more than 5km we're going to be obliterated," he said.
Woolworths supermarkets managing director Claire Peters welcomed the government's "willingness to provide us with the flexibility to deliver on its public health objectives while also preserving the supply chain capacity our customers rely on".
A Coles spokesman also welcomed the altered advice, saying stores could "maintain necessary supply" of products.
The government's decision to adjust the rules came after Australian Food and Grocery Council acting chief Geoffrey Annison warned of "empty shelves in supermarkets".
"We are also fearful that shopper discontent and frustration may lead to unruly behaviour in supermarkets and beyond," Dr Annison said.
Scott Morrison said he provided "frank" advice to Mr Andrews to avert supply chain problems.
"We have been … very determined to ensure they have been fully aware of the feedback we have been getting from the industry," the Prime Minister said.
"This occurs … particularly when it comes to food."
"He will make those calls and then we will just have to do our best to make that work."
On Thursday night McDonald's revealed its drive-through service would close during curfew hours in Melbourne. They will continue to offer delivery in the evenings.
Originally published as Supermarkets win a reprieve to help avert food shortages