Big W sheds casuals

A CLOUD of employment doubt shrouds the Big W distribution centre this week after a number of casual workers were dismissed earlier than expected.

Sixteen of the firm's casual workers were let go on Tuesday evening while many others had been given the day off.

Many were questioning whether the change was simply a seasonal move.

Though the terminations were confirmed by Big W Distribution Centre manager Stephen Gray, he insisted they were part of the "normal" post-Christmas wind-down and in no way related to the imminent opening of a distribution centre in Sydney.

However, many casual employees, who hoped to hold onto jobs until that opening, felt this wasn't the case.

While several of those dismissed were Christmas casuals, many others had held a job at the centre for months before the festive season.

All contacted expected the cutbacks to take place later in the year.

"They do usually cut back Christmas casuals, but not until late January," an anonymous worker said.

Several uni students who have worked at the DC over Christmas previously said they often worked through until early March.

"We were told the centre wouldn't cut down on work until March. This is way earlier than I thought," one of the dismissed employees said.

"I have a car loan and wasn't expecting to have to look for a job for another month."

One of the biggest employers in the area, it's unknown what impact more distribution centre job losses will have on the local economy.

As more than roughly half of employees at the centre are casuals, only the small number of permanent staff are guaranteed jobs in 2012.

Mr Gray said casual workers could normally expect to start having their hours cut back in January and February.

"We make it clear at the outset that the continuation of casual work is fully dependent on our workload," he said.

Many should be expecting significantly less then the five-and-a-half days of work given previously.

The unexpected dismissals sent a shiver down the spines of the casual staff.

A current employee expecting six months work was concerned with the recent developments and the possibility of unemployment.

"I have a mortgage, so this definitely isn't good," she said.

She has started to look for other work, in case she was next to be given "the chop".

"You never know until the last 15 minutes if you're it," another employee said.

There may be a ray of hope, with the possibility of a distribution contract with Masters Hardware, another retailer in the Woolworths Ltd family.

Mr Gray declined to comment on that situation.

He said the DC's workload and casual staff numbers normally "tripled" over Christmas.

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