Woman online grocery shopping

Australian supermarkets move to robot warehouses and on-demand labour

Author Loren Dela Cruz
Date 16 September 2021

As lockdowns continue across Australia, many households are doing something they may not have considered just 18 months ago: ordering groceries online.

Australia’s supermarket duopoly, Coles and Woolworths, have raced to implement new technology and transform labour arrangements to keep up with the e-grocery boom.
Both are investing in “smart” warehousing and distribution systems with various degrees of automation, as well as making extensive use of app-driven gig workers for grocery picking and delivery via platforms such as Uber and Airtasker.

ADM+S PhD Candidate, Lauren Kelly, is investigating automated decision-making systems in Australia’s supermarket warehouses, and considers what technological change means for workers. Her research suggests a reimagining of the Australian supermarket is currently underway, speeding up the trend towards on-demand and precarious labour.

In a recent article in The Conversation, Lauren discusses shifts in technology and labour relations currently underway in Australia’s supermarket duopoly. To meet surging demand for grocery home delivery during lockdowns, Coles and Woolworths have formalised partnerships with the gig economy to mobilise on-demand workers. Alongside these changes, both supermarkets are closing their existing–and largely unionised–warehouses to make way for “smart” automated facilities.

She discusses these changes in an interview with James Valentine on ABC Radio where she states “There are big changes taking place on two separate fronts. The first is in the warehouse… and the second is the increased reliance on precarious and on-demand labour to carry out the core business of the supermarket.”

Follow Lauren Kelly on Twitter @laurenkatekelly.