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Supermarket workers' path to living wage after Countdown deal - First Union

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

FIRST Union members at Countdown have ratified a new agreement that will set their supermarket team on a path towards a living wage, and significantly raise the pay of 15,000 workers across the country.

"Our members are thrilled to have stood together, negotiated together, and held out for a great deal that recognises their hard work and provides a clear pathway to the living wage," said Tali Williams, FIRST Union Secretary for Retail, Finance and Commerce.

"Supermarket workers brought energy and creativity to the bargaining process and maintained that they are worth a living wage. We’re pleased that Countdown has listened."

"We’d like to thank Countdown, and all of our delegates and members for their tireless months of work leading up to this point," said Tali Williams.

The deal with FIRST Union will impact around 15,000 Countdown team members in a variety of roles from checkout operators to butchers. For team with 12 months or more of service currently on rates close to the minimum wage of $17.70 per hour, the agreement will provide an increase to a living wage of $21.15 per hour from September 2020.

Countdown’s General Manager Operations, Brett Ashley, said the agreement reflects the company’s genuine desire to provide more income for its team.

"We’re proud to be a good employer and ensuring our team can continue to grow their earning ability is a key part of this. We’ve worked hard with FIRST Union to develop a fair path to more income for our team while also balancing the realities of keeping and creating jobs, and keeping food prices affordable for New Zealanders," said Brett Ashley.

"We’d like to thank FIRST Union members and our team for working with us to achieve such a positive agreement for our team. We’re proud of the number of team initiatives we have introduced over the last few years, and ensuring we offer a range of career opportunities and benefits so our team want to continue their careers with Countdown is a high priority for us."

Michelle McKenzie, 43, is a Duty Supervisor at the Church Corner store who has worked at Countdown for eight and a half years. For her, the deal is significant both at work and at home.

"A wage rise like this means we can spend less time worrying about making ends meet at home, making us less stressed at work and feeling more secure about our futures," said Ms McKenzie.

"In my life, it’s huge. I have four older kids, and as a family we can start to do more of the things together that we’ve sometimes missed out on in the past - two or three dollars an hour is a really big deal when it comes to living a good life and spending time with your family."

"It’s a common myth that supermarket jobs aren’t careers - in my experience, plenty of colleagues have put 30 or more years of their lives into their jobs, and this agreement means a lot to them in terms of recognising their long service and the benefits of a career in retail."

Tali Williams believed that the deal set a clear precedent and process that other supermarkets could look to replicate when entering negotiations with their workers: "An agreement like this shows that it’s both possible and practicable for all retail employers to pay their workers a living wage, and it makes good business sense too."

"I’m proud of our members today: they set an ambitious claim, organised among themselves, and took action to achieve a living wage. They deserve this."

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