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Manufacturing, retail and transport explore options beyond working from home

Woman working from home. Freelance working at home. She is designing her laptop on the desk

The coronavirus outbreak has led to most employers advising staff to work from home but in FMCG and retail, this isn’t always possible.

Research agency Roy Morgan’s latest employment data shows that 71 per cent of employed Australians never work from home, down by only 1 per cent from a decade ago. While the remaining 29 per cent of workers do undertake some work from home.

The figures barely changed during the last 10 years until today and it’s clear that in industries like retail, transport and manufacturing there is very limited options.

Over three-quarters of employees in Retail (87 per cent), Transport and Storage (82 per cent), Manufacturing (82 per cent) and Recreation and Personal (77 per cent) say they can’t work at home. However, in industries such as Finance, Property and Business Services, 49 per cent of workers have done at least some work from home, this drops to 44 per cent for those who work in Communications.

“There are several responses businesses are taking to deal with the sudden disruption caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus. One of the most effective for some businesses is to encourage, or require, employees to work from home where possible to avoid unnecessary contact in confined environments such as the workplace and on public transport on the way to and from work,” Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said.

“However, there are real problems for industries such as Retail, Transport and Storage and Manufacturing that generally require the workforce to be on-site to conduct their work. There is simply no good way to work in a retail store or operate complicated heavy machinery from a remote location,” said Levine.

While Transport requires the delivery of goods around the country, Levine said it is instance where social isolation can be undertaken even when on the job.

“The uncertainty surrounding how effective the response to the COVID-19 viral outbreak will be means it is impossible to ascertain the full economic impact on the economy and businesses in Australia at this stage. What appears likely at this early stage is that this impact is set to grow significantly over the next few weeks at least as comprehensive measures are taken by governments, businesses and individuals alike to reduce their chances of being personally exposed to the virus and prevent the viral outbreak in Australia approaching the levels seen in countries overseas,” explained Levine.

Percentage of Australian employees in each industry that have done some work or no work from home

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source. Feb. 2019 – Jan. 2020, n-27,370. Base: Australians aged 14+ in paid employment.

How are Australian FMCG companies responding to the outbreak?

Lion employees who can work at home have been told to do so, but those in brewing, manufacturing, packaging, engineering and logistics will be unable to do so.

These staff members have been advised of additional personal hygiene measures, changes to work patterns and have been instructed to practice social distancing.

Lion said these guidelines also apply to customers, suppliers and other partners. The company has increased cleaning at its manufacturing sites and halted all overseas and non-critical domestic travel. 

“At this stage all our key breweries and production sites are operating and we’re taking steps across our manufacturing network to ensure there’s no disruption to supply. We are managing stock levels and have multiple scale breweries so we don’t expect any disruption at this stage. We have business continuity plans in place should any of our breweries be impacted,” said Lion in a statement.

The company’s hospitality venues and brewery attractions in the US, UK and Australia have been closed while it is monitoring its sites in New Zealand. 

“This is a tough time for everyone, so we want to support casual and permanent hospitality team members by continuing to pay any affected staff. We will continue to assess the situation each week,” said Lion.

“We recognise the role we can all play in helping to safeguard vulnerable members of our community and help ‘flatten the curve’ while continuing to meet the needs of our customers and consumers.”

Unilever has also told office workers to work from home. Among its extra measures it has advised its staff to stop travelling; to stop working from any company site other than their principal location; and not to enter a Unilever site if the worker is suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms.

Visitors are banned from Unilever sites without approval from the site leader and the FMCG giant has cancelled meetings, conferences or events with more than 20 people.

“We are also applying additional measures which vary based on whether you have an office-based role, work in a sourcing unit, or are one of our field sales or retail staff,” said Unilever CEO Allan Jope.

With the increase in people working from home cyber security experts said hackers will take advantage by trying to infiltrate corporations’ systems.

The Government in the US, Britain and other countries have issued warnings on the dangers for the remote workforce. Tech companies are also seeing surges in requests to help secure out-of-office employees, according to AAP.

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