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One Simple Thing Could Save Foodstuffs Millions In ‘Historic’ North/South Merger

FIRST Union National secretary for Retail and Finance, Rudd Hughes, says the proposed merger between Foodstuffs divisions for the North and South Island should also include a merger of workers’ Collective Agreements (CAs), which could save the business millions while cutting thousands of hours of unnecessary negotiations and ensuring consistency and transparency across the Foodstuffs workforce.

At present, each Foodstuffs store (Pak’N’Save, New World, Four Square) must negotiate an individual CA with each group of workers at each individual store, meaning hundreds of wage negotiations and bargaining sessions with staff are required to take place each year. This contrasts with Foodstuffs’ main competitor, Woolworths/Countdown, where all supermarket staff are parties to a single CA that sets pay and conditions across the entire chain.

"Not only would it save Foodstuffs millions, but we could avoid the bizarre discrepancies in pay that can exist between the same branded supermarkets in the same city," said Mr Hughes.

"At the moment, it only takes one store owner to single-handedly bring down the average Foodstuffs wage in a city and let pay negotiations with staff drag on for a year or more while comparable stores across town with more hands-on owners can get it all done and dusted within a week."

Mr Hughes said some Foodstuffs store owners could spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive employment advocates during bargaining in an attempt to outsource the ‘difficult’ parts of bargaining to an uninterested party. This often led to adversarial and unproductive bargaining sessions where the main aim was to erode workers’ power and ensure any settlement reached was below the broader market rate for supermarkets, which had been set by Foodstuffs’ higher-paying competitors like Woolworths/Countdown and Costco.

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"Wage negotiations at Foodstuffs stores are far more fraught than they need to be, and staff would absolutely welcome the pay transparency and clearer opportunities for career progression that would be provided by a single national agreement," said Mr Hughes.

Mr Hughes says FIRST Union members are party to nearly 200 different agreements across Pak’N’Saves, New Worlds and Four Squares, and strike action had been a regular occurrence during negotiations over the last five years.

Mr Hughes gave the example of current negotiations at Pak’N’Save Taupo, which are in the eighth bargaining week and heading towards a protracted industrial dispute. Staff at Pak’N’Save Taupo, many of whom are currently paid minimum wage, are seeking to improve their wages so they are comparable to Countdown/Woolworths. But the store owner has engaged employment advocates Three60 Consult, who are flown down from Auckland at considerable cost to attend each bargaining session, with little to no progress made due to their presence.

"Merging their collective agreements really is a no-brainer and a win-win for everyone involved except the overpaid employment consultants," said Mr Hughes.

"Hundreds of hours of meetings, emails and speeches could be permanently avoided every year - who wouldn’t want that?"

"It’s long overdue that Foodstuffs catch up with their competitors and bring wages and employment agreements into line with the rest of the industry so that local supermarkets have a better shot at recruiting staff and ensuring they stay in the job."

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