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Warehouse braces for potential Christmas strikes

Warehouse braces for potential strikes during peak Christmas trading

By Paul McBeth
Dec. 3 (BusinessWire) – Warehouse Group, the country’s largest listed retailer, is preparing for the prospect of strikes during peak Christmas trading after the breakdown of talks with the National Distribution Union.

The retailer, which is taking on 1,800 temporary workers to cater for the Christmas rush, is confident it will have measures in place to cope with any potential strike action and has taken precautions at highly unionised stores, general manager operations Karl Parker told BusinessWire.

Workers are disgruntled over proposals to push some working weeks up to 50 hours. Talks with the union, which represents about 2,150 staff, broke down last week. Shares of the Warehosue climbed about 1% to $4.12 today.

When and if staff go on strike during the holiday season, “our managers at affected stories will call for volunteers to fill the gap,” Parker said. “We’ve offered an independent mediator (to reopen negotiations), but there’s been no response from the union.”

The NDU has accused the retailer of imposing unfair working conditions in its initiative to target staffing levels to peak periods during the weekends and rostering experienced workers around those times. Warehouse was forced to overhaul its staff structure after the country’s longest recession in more than 30 years sapped consumers’ demand for goods.

The retailer has boosted its staff retention rates to 77.6% as at July 31 from 62.2% two years earlier, and said it has given staff a 3% pay-rise from August this year, as well as offering a starting wage of $12.88 per hour. Chief executive Ian Morrice said the company hasn’t laid anyone off due to its consultation programme.

Warehouse reported weaker-than-expected sales in September and October, indicating a slow start to the holiday trading season. Sales at Red Sheds dropped 1.5% to $317.7 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, while Warehouse Stationary gained 2.2% to $45.2 million.

Retailers were the only group in the National Bank Business Outlook survey to register a boost in confidence last month as they prepare for the busy Christmas shopping period. Still, this comes as consumer sentiment remains subdued about the current state of the economy and stores aren’t expected to enjoy bumper trading period.


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