Today’s report from the Commerce Commission showing the Countdown/Foodstuffs duopoly is unduly powerful and profitable demonstrates to New Zealanders how their spending is not reflected in increases to Foodstuffs workers’ wages and conditions, which remain relatively low and necessitate contentious bargaining and strike action despite the employer making considerable profit, FIRST Union said today.
FIRST Union is the union for supermarket workers at both chains. Negotiations with Countdown are done by a single national Collective Agreement, which is due for renewal in June 2022. Foodstuffs stores like Pak’n’Save and New World are owned and operated by individual managers across the country and necessitate separate negotiations store by store. Recently, there have been strike actions at more than three Foodstuffs stores as workers seek a base living wage. Furthermore, some Foodstuffs stores in South Island have refused to bargain on wages entirely.
"Low wages and a miserly attitude to bargaining with their workers are a big part of the reason Foodstuffs profits are so high. When workers initiate bargaining at individual stores, many owners imply that meeting a living wage, for example, would be the end of the world and the end of their businesses," said Tali Williams, FIRST Union Secretary for Retail, Finance and Commerce.
"This is clearly not true given that Foodstuffs stores in Botany, Royal Oak, Lincoln Road and Victoria Park have already negotiated living wages with FIRST Union members and are clearly seeing the benefits of recruiting and retaining skilled workers."
Ms Williams says Fair Pay Agreements would signal the end of store-by-store bargaining and allow for fairness across the sector, no matter which brand someone works for.
"This kind of market distortion has devalued supermarket retail work and shows us why Fair Pay Agreements - which would set minimum benchmarks across a sector - could be a part of the solution to this kind of overriding corporate greed that has distorted and undermined labour relations across the industry," said Ms Williams.
"With the knowledge that Government will be taking action upon completion of the final Commerce Commission report later this year, I’m hopeful that supermarket owners will see the writing on the wall and start negotiating fairly with workers before they are compelled to."