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Thousands to sign banner for better work in retail

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As part of FIRST Union’s stop work meetings at 58 locations around the country (more than 5,300 attendees), retail workers will be signing one of our largest banners ever in support of the three tenets of our Worth It campaign. The campaign calls on employers in the retail industry to pay workers a Living Wage of $20.55 an hour, give workers enough hours to live on, and ensure that as the minimum wage increases, so too do existing pay rates relative to this.

This is in response to the overwhelming underpayment and underemployment of workers in this sector. Many retail workers in New Zealand currently survive on minimum wage rates and don’t have enough hours of work to live on. Pay rates and work hours are so low that employers struggle to fill vacancies, and a pay crisis is already in effect as the average retail worker struggles to live. The campaign was set up as an opportunity for retail brands to instil more ethical work practices.

FIRST Union has 12,500 members across the country working in the retail industry, but the campaign is aimed at transforming a large chunk of the working sector to better the lives of almost 20% of the New Zealand workforce who are at risk of insecure and/or low-paid jobs.

The stop-work meetings begin in Tauranga and Whakatane tomorrow and media are invited to attend. See below list for all venues, times and numbers of attendees. Media are encouraged to arrive 20 minutes after the meeting start time to view the signing. FIRST Union General Secretary Dennis Maga (021 971 070) will be at each event to answer your questions and provide commentary.

Dennis Maga says it’s hoped employers who’ve not yet adopted ethical business practices will take note of the support for the campaign.

"This is a big demonstration to illustrate how much our workers want to live happy and healthy lives. Masses of people are struggling, retail makes up almost 20% of New Zealand’s workforce. If we can make this sector fair, it will go a long way to bettering the lives hundreds of thousands of families."

He says the industry, while not the only one, is rife with high turnover due to an undervaluing of employees.

"The casualisation of the workforce in retail has detrimental effects on the skill level of the people in these jobs. The low pay rates and work hours cause a lot of strife in the lives of New Zealanders, yet we have employers scratching their heads as to why they can’t find skilled workers."

Mr Maga says retail workers are some of the lowest paid in any sector.

"If we consider median, not average figures, it becomes obvious why many people are struggling to make ends meet and this is made all the more frustrating by what is a booming retail industry in New Zealand, it’s not like the money’s not there."

He says too fewer hours are also typical of the sector with UNDERemployment figures hitting new highs just a couple years ago.

"I hear a lot about high employment figures but on the flipside we have some of the highest UNDERemployment figures we’ve seen in years. It seems to me that yes, more people are employed in New Zealand, but it’s for far fewer hours."

Mr Maga adds that to top it off, those who are UNDERemployed are women and young parents.

"These are the people bringing up the next generation of New Zealanders, paying them fairly ensures a hefty chunk of Kiwi kids are looked after, don’t we all want that?"

He encourages the Government’s Fair Pay Agreements workgroup to consider what an FPA would look like in the retail sector.

"FPAs save a lot of time and money for both employers and unions, and supermarket retailers are well positioned for a collective, industry-wide agreement. It would be wise to start talking about what one could mean for the grocery retail sector."

The meetings end on September 20th when the signed banner will be completed.

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