New Zealand retail store workers fight bosses’ attacks

By Mike Tucker
July 23, 2018

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Hundreds of Farmers department store workers across New Zealand, members of the First Union, went on strike for up to five hours July 5 to press demands for better wages and conditions.

“‘Performance pay’ is the main issue,” said Maureen Scott, one of 60 workers from company stores in west Auckland who picketed St Lukes Mall. Pay scales start at the minimum wage of 16.50 New Zealand dollars (US$11.20), with NZ$17.50 being the top pay for most jobs. Any further increases depend on performance reviews conducted at the discretion of managers. The bosses try to use the lure of higher pay from these ‘performance assessments’ to divide workers and push them to work harder and compete to sell more.

Over 600 workers have submitted a petition to Farmers demanding an end to the performance pay system and for a minimum pay rate of NZ$20.55 an hour. The union estimates 80 percent of the workforce earns below that rate.

Many workers are kept on part time, one of over 60 workers from stores in south Auckland who rallied at a busy intersection in Botany Town Centre told the Militant. “It’s hard to get a good amount of hours to work” to make up for the low pay, she said, “and it’s not humanly possible to do what we’re expected to do in those hours.”

Farmers is a nationwide chain of 59 stores that sell a wide variety of clothes, cosmetics, toys, homeware and electrical goods. Most workers are women.

Workers at the Botany rally described how they’re pressured to garner donations from customers for company-sponsored charities. If they hit the day’s target, managers give them a chocolate bar as a “reward.”

Pickets, rallies and marches took place in eight other cities and towns alongside the two in Auckland. The First Union said 93 percent of its members at Farmers had voted for the protest strike after rejecting the company’s new contract offer. For most of those taking part it was their first time on strike.

As the Botany picket concluded, one worker called out, “When’s the next one!?”