Sent to all Members of Parliament:
21 February 2008
Member of Parliament Parliament Buildings WELLINGTON
Dear Member of Parliament
We are writing to you on behalf of our members at Bunnings.
Bunnings tell us that “lowest prices are just the beginning”, but it seems that paying the lowest wages are not far behind.
Our union has been trying to negotiate with Bunnings for nine months. Our members have become so frustrated with the refusal of the company to be involved in meaningful negotiations around wages that we are holding a day of action to highlight the intransigence of Bunnings in refusing to negotiate a Collective Agreement with wage scales with the union representing almost 400 of its workers.
Bunnings is owned by the Australian company Wesfarmers. It is a relatively new entrant into the NZ hardware retail industry. Its parent company claims to adhere to the principles of corporate responsibility. Yet it does not show itself to be a good corporate citizen in this country.
This is not the first time that this union has had to contend with an anti-union Australian firm.
Two years ago this union was in a pitched battle with Woolworths Australia (Progressive) who locked out more than 600 distribution workers for four weeks. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders and their Australian supporters came to the aid of the Woolworths / Progressive workers donating tens of thousands of dollars to help feed the families of the locked out workers.
In the end victory came to the workers. Woolworths / Progressive lifted their lockout and the workers and their union achieved their goal of pay equity across the Woolworths / Progressive distribution centres.
Thankfully, today, after making senior management changes, Woolworths / Progressive is working much more cooperatively with the union in New Zealand and significant wage increases have been achieved in its supermarkets as well as distribution centres.
Bunnings has shown its contempt for New Zealand laws ever since it has been in New Zealand. If it cannot achieve law change through lobbying, it simply breaks the law. Bunnings has had numerous convictions for opening over Easter. Its treatment of staff and this union is little different.
During our protracted negotiations, Bunnings has attempted to negotiate directly with union members and not through the union on at least four occasions in contravention of the New Zealand Employment Relations Act. Our union is currently preparing actions
against Bunnings in the Employment Authority for these breaches. The main issue for Bunnings workers in New Zealand is the poverty wage rates that are being paid.
Although we recognise that there is a wage gap between Australia and New Zealand, all parties in Parliament are on record as wanting to see this gap closed.
The gap between Bunnings Australian and New Zealand wages (especially at the lower rates) is huge. In New Zealand, from 1 February 2008, Bunnings workers are being paid a minimum rate of $12.00 per hour (which is the legal minimum wage rate from 1 April 2008). The current minimum wage rate for a Bunnings worker in Australia will move to $A 16.85 on 1 July 2008, which when exchange rates and OECD Comparative Price Levels are taken into account equals $NZ 18.19 per hour.
In New Zealand Bunnings is also paying much lower wages compared to other hardware, grocery and general retail supermarket chains. The start rate for all Woolworths / Progressive supermarket checkout operators from 2 June 2008 will be $13.59 compared to $12.00 per hour at Bunnings. Even the lowest rates at Kmart (that has just been purchased by Wesfarmers from Coles) are $12.25 per hour from 1 February and $13.00 by 1 November 2008.
Six days ago, after our union had given notice for Stop Work meetings, Bunnings contacted the National Distribution Union and agreed to resume bargaining this week prior to the stop work meetings taking place . The Union moved over the weekend to set up the negotiations and Bunnings then back tracked and declined to meet this week after all. Bunnings has though agreed to the Union’s proposition that bargaining recommence with a mediator present. That bargaining will occur as soon as the Union can obtain agreed dates from Bunnings.
Although Bunnings has now agreed to recommence bargaining we want to inform you of the background of our dispute and to ask you to use your influence on Bunnings to ensure that they obey New Zealand laws, ILO Conventions and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises when operating in this county and respect the kiwi workers that they employ.
Robert Reid PRESIDENT