Seventeen years working in the Pak ‘n Save butchery has taken a toll on Jenny Wells.
She likes her job, but over the years she’s torn tendons in her shoulder, and the physically demanding shifts, which start at 5am, wear her out.
“I go to sleep as soon as I get home, I don’t have the energy to do anything.”
However, she has found the energy to strive for change. The union delegate is leading a charge of union members who have spent almost five years fighting for better conditions at their workplace: including a living wage, a transparent pay scale, long service leave, and more sick leave.
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However, with Richmond Pak ‘n Save owner Andrew Howard declining to negotiate directly, progress has been frustratingly slow, Wells said.
“Everything face-to-face is all very polite and good mannered, but it’s like hitting your head on a brick wall. We can’t seem to progress any further.”
For many, earning the living wage of $22.10 would make a big difference, delegate Cindy Karaitiana said.
Karaitiana, who lives in a caravan in Richmond, has worked on the checkout for two years.
“If I had the living wage, I’d go and rent a flat.”
She’d like to see every worker receive the living wage – union or not.
“If you work a full time job you should be able to earn enough to support your household,” Wells added. “Not live in luxury but paying a big power bill, or if your car needs a new tyre.”
Pak ‘n Save stores are individually owned, but the brand is part of Foodstuffs, who run North Island and South Island co-operatives.
FIRST Union, the union for supermarket workers, has negotiated collective agreements with several North Island’s Pak ‘n Saves.
The union also has a collective agreement with Countdown, where staff with a year’s service will be paid at least $21.15 by the end of September.
However, the union has not been able to broker agreements with any of the Foodstuffs South Island stores, which include New World, Raeward Fresh and Four Square.
This year, South Island Foodstuffs reported a revenue of more than $3 billion, with operating profit of more than $88 million.
Foodstuffs’ website states that “corporate responsibility is central to our approach to business, from board level to checkout. This is demonstrated by the way we treat our people, the local community and the environment.”
In practice, this is not true, the women say.
“There’s a high turnover of staff, people are coming and going. It doesn’t worry management, they know someone else will take your place,” Karaitiana said.
Wages are only part of the problem, Wells said.
They’d like to see transparency over the pay scale, so workers know what they’re entitled to. They’d like to see long-service and loyalty rewarded with long-service leave, and more sick leave: staff were using annual leave to care for sick children or parents.
And they’d like more support from management.
“We’ve had issues with bullying, or people not coping well, there’s nowhere at work to get the support.”
However, Pak ‘n Save employee Lorraine Luckman said she had found her employer “caring”. Management provided staff with fresh fruit, and food and drink on public holidays.
A bonus was paid each year at Christmas, and support had been given for staff going through hard times, Luckman said.
“A small minority do not agree our employer cares but it is important to acknowledge all that we do receive,” she said.
Howard would not speak with Stuff directly, instead sending a statement via Foodstuffs’ media team.
The statement said the store’s pay rates were “competitive and in line with the market.”
Howard said the five years of bargaining had been done “in good faith”, and an offer had been made in August.
He said his team worked hard to maintain “excellent” working conditions.
Howard did not respond to a query about whether he was planning to offer the living wage.
FIRST Union organiser Ross Lampert said essential workers deserved essential pay: that meant a living wage.
“[Current wages] are not in same ball park. They’re not even playing the same sport.”
The latest offer from Howard was less than what most staff already earn, Lampert said.
“He’s trying to create a situation in which they are posing to new employees, would you like the collective agreement which has a lower rate of pay, or this agreement?
“It’s an attempt to undermine the collective agreement, and not a fair way to negotiate.”