Some Warehouse distribution centre workers striking today

Source: 1News

Some workers at The Warehouse’s Auckland distribution centre are striking on Tuesday largely due to "drawn out" Collective Agreement negotiations, First Union says.

A man walks in front of a Warehouse store in Auckland.

The union said negotiations have already lasted for six months, with the last Collective Agreement, which covered about 300 workers, expiring in June.

Workers are reportedly concerned over health and safety, how the company intends to implement its plans requiring all staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and its alleged decision immunocompromised staff are to return to work or not be paid.

Wages are also a concern, the union said, along with testing requirements and the level of deep cleaning during the Covid-19 Delta outbreak.

First Union organiser Hayley Courtney said The Warehouse’s actions are not those of a fair and reasonable employer.

"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," she said.

"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."

Richard Parker, The Warehouse’s chief human resources officer, said the company was "disappointed" its First Union members had chosen strike action as a means of negotiation.

He said The Warehouse Group had been "bargaining in good faith" and it had started in July, "continuing constructively despite the difficulties presented by Covid gathering restrictions".

Parker said the company pays workers 19 per cent above minimum wage and "well above" the retail industry’s average market salary.

Perceived issues with pay were at the core of The Warehouse’s bargaining with the union, he said.

The Warehouse was also "very disappointed" with the union’s assertions its workplace was unsafe.

"We have worked closely with the Ministry of Health throughout the lockdowns to ensure we follow all health and safety requirements and our distribution centres have had multiple deep cleans following Ministry of Health advice."

All of its team members had been paid in full throughout the lockdowns and while they undergo rapid antigen testing, Parker said.

This also applies if they test positive for the virus, while immunocompromised workers are entitled to claim annual leave after about two years of additional paid discretionary Covid leave, he explained.

"Claims that we are not supporting our people are wholly unfounded."

"The Warehouse Group remains committed to continuing to bargain with the union on terms and conditions to deliver a fair outcome for our team members."

The company’s net profit after tax for the 2021 financial year was $117.7 million, Parker said.

First Union claimed The Warehouse group had posted "record sales" of $3.4 billion in 2021, with sales rising by 7.6 per cent.

It had earlier wrongly said the $3.4 billion was "record profit".