Top retailers ‘exploiting workers’

Press release

Major retail and industry brands including Fletcher, Countdown, Lion and Bunnings are jeopardizing the national pandemic response and exploiting their workers by forcing many to use sick leave and accrued annual leave instead of applying for the easily-available Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme during Level 3 of the latest lockdown in Auckland, FIRST Union said today.

Examples of affected workers include those not required onsite due to operational restrictions entailed by the Level-3 lockdown but who can’t work from home, those at high risk of catching Covid-19 as per Ministry of Health guidelines, those who have at-risk household members, or those who are required to self-isolate or quarantine for health reasons or due to contact tracing of active cases.

FIRST Union believes the trend, which is emerging consistently across multiple employers and industries, sets a worrying precedent for any future changes in regional alert levels and must be monitored closely by Government.

“These companies are eligible for a leave scheme which specifically enables them to access Government money to pay workers who need to self-isolate or can’t work during the current Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, but many of them are refusing to apply for it,” said Tali Williams, FIRST Union Secretary for Retail and Finance.

“It means people are being instructed to use up sick leave and, in some cases, forced to use their accrued annual leave to observe a required public health duty and do their part to protect colleagues, customers and their loved ones at home.”

“For example, if you’re immune-compromised or you live with someone who is, you would be unable to work under Level 3 of the lockdown in Auckland and should be isolating at home even though you work for an essential business like a supermarket.”

“Businesses like Countdown or Bunnings might not meet the reduced revenue threshold required to access the broader wage subsidy scheme, but they can and should apply for this leave support scheme on behalf of employees who can’t work according to public health advice.”

On the other side of FIRST Union, Jared Abbott (Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing), said companies like Fletcher were putting their workers at risk and being opportunistic with the lockdown by trying to drive down the leave balances of their overall workforces.

“These are often roles with very low annual leave entitlements that are carefully managed by workers and saved up for proper holidays and other personal plans,” said Mr Abbott.

“If you have to use up all of your sick days to self-isolate even when you don’t have Covid-19, that means more pressure on you to come to work when you’re feeling slightly sick but have no leave left and can’t afford to miss a rent payment.”

“It’s damaging behaviour from these employers, and it sets a terrible precedent for when we next move between Level 2 and 3 of lockdown elsewhere in the country if there’s another outbreak and community transmission to contain.”

“The Government have made it easy for these companies to access this support and it’s strange and unforgivable that so many big companies still won’t.”

FIRST Union invites media to contact all major brands to verify the consistency of this practice, including those outside of the union’s coverage.


Steve Hart is a writer and podcaster.