New World employees vow to continue fight for pay parity

Protests at Centre City New World over a $2 an hour pay gap between North Island and South Island stores have resulted in multiple trespasses, a breakdown in negotiations, and threats of legal action after employees and management failed to reach an agreement after months of discussions. 

First Union, the national retail union, had entered into collective bargaining agreements with individual Foodstuffs supermarkets in the North Island over the past year which had resulted in pay rises across the board for wage earning employees. However, when they attempted to engage with stores in the South Island, they found a much less receptive opposition. 

Shirley Walthew, Dunedin Organiser for First Union says that owners across the South Island have “colluded” and are taking a blanket stance to refuse to engage in any negotiations around wages. As a result, Walthew says “the only time these employees are getting raises is when the government puts the minimum wage up.” 

Craig Napier, Owner of New World Centre City did not respond directly to the claim, but said that they are “currently engaged in a good faith bargaining process” and would not discuss the matter further. 

Angus Wilson, a supervisor at Centre City, says that employees have become more and more engaged with the union as collective bargaining negotiations have gone on. He was one of just six employees involved with the union at the start of the year, a number he says has risen to around a third of staff, although he speculates that some staff have been hesitant to join out of fear that they will be looked over for job promotions. 

After reaching an impasse in negotiations, around 30 First Union members took part in a protest at the supermarket carpark, which ended with a number of attendees being trespassed from the store, although none were current employees. Shirley Walthew was among those trespassed, a move she describes as “absurd”, pointing out that the Employment Relations Act guarantees the right for Union representatives to be present on work sites, saying “it’s literally in my job description”. 

First Union is now planning to pursue legal action at the Employment Tribunal. According to Wilson, they “won’t stop fighting until we get what we deserve—fairness”.  

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2016.
Posted 10:18am Sunday 21st August 2016 by Joel MacManus.