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9 January 2022

Australia’s retail supply chain is confronting unprecedented stress, risking the community’s access to food and the other essentials, a challenge likely to deepen without urgent government action.

Retail employers and employees are joining forces to urge government – federal, state and territory – to act immediately to help stabilise the supply chain and ensure families can continue to put food on the table and meet their other essential needs in the face of the Omicron challenge.

With that goal in mind, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) call on each level of government to:

  • ensure free (government subsidised), immediate and appropriate priority access to Rapid Antigen Tests for essential, frontline retail and distribution centre workers
  • immediately provide an efficient and timely reporting mechanism for RAT tests for retail and distribution centre workers, preferably via state QR check-in systems
  • immediately end requirements (where they exist) for reporting of test results to multiple agencies before employees are cleared to work
  • allow workers who test negative to return to the workforce as soon as practically possible

Safety reporting is critically important – it must be simple and streamlined.

Beyond the health of the nation, nothing should be a higher priority for government – federal, state and territory – than ensuring the community’s access to food and the other essentials of life.

The onset of the Omicron variant and the responses of governments to its spread have led to unprecedented constraints on the retail supply chain.

Whilst we are experiencing significant supply chain issues globally, locally It is predominantly a distribution and staffing dilemma, not a stock problem.

The actions proposed by the ARA and the SDA will help ensure:

  • community access to the essentials will stabilise as quickly as possible and
  • that customer aggression towards retail workers over stock shortages is avoided

The alternative is unthinkable.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said staff shortages are the number one challenge for retailers currently, with 80% of the ARA’s surveyed members reporting their retail operations are being affected by staff isolations.

“One in five of our businesses report up to 50% of their staff are affected by isolation currently. This level of impact is unprecedented.  Whilst there is light at the end of the Omicron tunnel, governments and businesses need to work together closely to get through this peak period safely and ensure retailers can continue to service the community requirements,” Mr Zahra said.

“With workforce resources so constrained we are asking for a focus on directing testing resources where they are most needed to support essential services, and reducing reporting red-tape and administration processes as much as possible.  We are getting member feedback that the new employer reporting requirements from the states are onerous, overwhelming teams and causing much needed resources to be diverted into administration which is a roadblock to other safety and support issues.”

“The safety of retail and warehouse workers is paramount as they work to guarantee access to food supplies essential products. To achieve this they must have immediate appropriate priority access to free Rapid Antigen Tests,” said Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary the SDA.

“This is a community health issue and Governments at all levels must support the health and safety of these essential workers as much to ensure families access to essentials as for the viability of the workforce.

“COVID fatigue is causing frustration in the community but these frustrations must not be directed at retail workers. There is no excuse for abuse – retail workers are entitled to respect and a safe workplace,” said Mr Dwyer.


Jim Middleton (SDA) 0418 627066 

Dominic Cuschieri (ARA) 0418 224072