An "upheaval" is underway at the Blue Mountains Food Co-op with the board set to resign at the coming annual general meeting as sales are declining. A bid to cut staff wages had also been knocked back by the Fair Work Commission.
In a message to members sent out on August 1 by BMFC Board chair Georgia Page, members were told the "past year has been a challenging time for the co-op" and that the Board of directors "intends to resign at the impending annual general meeting, as it doesn't feel it can progress the organisation in the current situation and believes a renewal of the board is in the best interests of the co-op".
"Our manager [Halin Nieuwenhuyse], of many years resigned late last year, the board applied to terminate the co-op's EBA (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) which was not received well by many staff, and we are currently experiencing declining sales."
The letter to members said in addition: "The Fair Work Commission returned a result for our EBA termination application last week and has denied the application".
The annual report said wages costs were growing faster than sales since 2016 - with staff members being paid 20 per cent or more above their award classification - which was "unsustainable".
Treasurer Peter Perry said in the report some employee feedback during staff-board consultation sessions held since September, was that the current board "is only interested in money, rather than the broader aims of the Co-op".
He said "this is another understandable reaction [but] not true. The Board has a responsibility to all the co-op's stakeholders, including members, customers, suppliers, staff, volunteers, partner-organisations, and the broader community - and, ultimately, for the ongoing viability of the organisation".
Their annual report indicated "sales are not keeping pace with our costs and this has resulted in a greater loss than we had budgeted for 2021-22 financial year, with another loss forecast for the coming year unless we increase sales and reduce costs".
The letter said membership would need to form a new board and they would support new directors if needed and continue to volunteer at the co-op. They appealed to members to consider being part of a new board and to "give our staff your kindness - it's quite an upheaval".
A staff spokesperson told the Gazette "while the decision [the Board quitting] has come as a shock, it is understandable".
Amy Tyson, administration manager of Blue Mountains Food Co-op, said: "Staff have been under considerable stress keeping the Blue Mountains Food Co-op running during the past two years so this does add another layer of challenge; while the Board has also been under considerable stress making difficult decisions to ensure the organisation's ongoing sustainability and financial stability through uncertain times".
She said staff remain "optimistic".
"We are already exploring a range of strategies and innovations to move the Co-op forward and through this so that we can continue to serve our members and community.
"The Co-op calls to our members with relevant skills and expertise to please come forward and nominate for the Board."
The co-op runs shops at 1 & 2 Ha'Penny Lane in Katoomba, as well as the Blue Mountains Edible Garden Trail. It has 2300 members and is a member-owned, not-for-profit organisation. In the 2021-22 financial year, it sold almost four tonnes of local raw honey, 13 tonnes of organic potatoes, 18,000 one-dozen egg packs and 10 tonnes of bananas. They made a $56,341 loss.
In 2021, the volunteer shop roster expanded to more than 305 hours and 193 shifts per month with the addition of one-hour shifts, overlapping shifts and weekend shifts. This was an increase from two years ago when the roster had 180 hours and 90 shifts per month. The co-op donated $9,082.27.
The AGM has been postponed to Saturday, September 10 to give members more time to consider nominating for the board. Nominations for the board close on Friday, August 26.
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