Updated: Workers at The Warehouse Group’s distribution centre in Auckland have voted to take strike action and will withdraw their labour today (Tuesday 16 November) following the company’s refusal to address structural wage issues and precarious work during a drawn-out collective bargaining period that has already lasted for six months, FIRST Union said today.
Workers have also raised wider concerns with Warehouse managers over health and safety on the job, including concerns about the implementation of the company’s proposed vaccination mandate for employees, and objections to the company’s recent decision to require immune-compromised people to return to work, which FIRST Union says goes against Ministry of Health advice and ignores access to the Government’s Leave Support scheme, which exists to protect the health of such employees.
FIRST Union members voted to strike after enduring six months of tense negotiations in which they say concerns about precarious work, short-term contracts and fair and transparent wage rises have not been addressed. Their last Collective Agreement, which covered around 300 people at the distribution centre, expired in June this year.
“Our members have been frustrated that after more than a year of extreme stress and heightened demand at work, fair pay rises in line with the CPI (Consumer Price Index) are simply not on the table during these negotiations,” said Hayley Courtney, FIRST Union organiser.
“They were called essential workers and the company demanded more from them than ever during lockdowns, but now it’s time to sign a new agreement and push comes to shove, The Warehouse’s corporate managers apparently don’t think their employees have earned a pay rise that covers the rising cost of living in Auckland.”
The Warehouse Group posted record sales of $3.4bn in 2021 with sales rising by 7.6 per cent following Covid-19 lockdowns. The Auckland-based distribution centre remained open for essential goods shipping during these lockdowns and workers say duties and workload have remained constant since that point.
Ms Courtney said that workers at the distribution centre have also raised wider concerns with the union around safety practices not being followed at work, and onerous antigen testing requirements that can result in workers losing pay and hours while testing requirements are observed.
At the same time as this, Ms Courtney says that The Warehouse emailed FIRST Union last week, giving employees who are high-risk or share a bubble with a high-risk person two days’ notice that they must return to work or stop being paid.
This is despite their eligibility for the Leave Support Scheme, which subsidises their employer to continue paying them. FIRST Union has written back to object. There have been four confirmed Covid-19 cases at the distribution centre, including one new case notified this weekend.”
The Warehouse’s actions are not those of a fair and reasonable employer,” said Ms Courtney. “These people are our most vulnerable and their employer wants to force them back out into the community, despite daily Covid cases being higher than ever.
“Our members have also raised concerns that the facility does not appear to be deep-cleaned regularly, despite claims to the contrary – this just heightens these concerns about safety at work.
“The Warehouse are continuing to make self-interested decisions that threaten our Covid-19 recovery – they’re making more money than ever but won’t pay staff to cover rapidly rising living costs, they’re low-balling workers in a ham-fisted attempt to ‘negotiate’, and they’re not addressing serious health and safety issues raised by their workforce outside of bargaining.”