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Union says loyal Whitcoulls staff hurt in business transfer

Monday 30th May 2011 4 Comments

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Whitcoulls workers are being asked to sign away rights in new employment contracts offered by the book store's new owners, the National Distribution Union (NDU) says.

Cautious optimism about the sale by receivers last week had turned to outrage as workers were given until the end of today to sign new employment agreements offered on Friday, NDU general secretary Robert Reid said.

"Never in my 30 years of working as a trade unionist have I ever seen such a blatant ruse to force workers to sign out of their rights and entitlements in a business transfer situation," Reid said.

Anne and David Norman, whose retail empire includes the Farmers chain, bought the Whitcoulls and Borders New Zealand book stores from receivers. The buyer is Project Mark Ltd, a company in the Norman's James Pascoe Group. The sale was said to preserve 900 jobs when it was announced last week.

Reid said workers were being asked to give up entitlement to redundancy compensation, notice of termination of employment and any claims or grievances from their previous employer in new contracts.

"If the administrator made workers redundant today, it would have to make a lieu of notice payment and redundancy payment, up to a cap of $18,600 per person.

"Under this agreement, James Pascoe could take on a worker for one week and make them redundant the next week with no redundancy compensation pay whatsoever," Reid said.

"Even at a conservative estimate, the 900 Whitcoulls workers in the sales process could have lieu payments and redundancy entitlements of $5000 each. This means that Whitcoulls workers are being forced to contribute almost half a million dollars of entitlements to the sale. It could well be double that," he said.

The union was seeking advice of the legality of the move.

"However, the issue should not be whether it is legal or not, the issue is a moral and ethical one of how any company should treat its staff when the staff are in a vulnerable position."

A good sale for the future of book retailing in New Zealand should not be premised on the slashing of working conditions of the loyal staff, Reid said.



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Comments from our readers

On 30 May 2011 at 5:19 pm Alberre Tross said:
How naive of the union to think that the business would recommence without the previous owners' liabilities being eliminated.
On 31 May 2011 at 8:27 am Mike G said:
What would the headline have been if the retail outlets were forced to close? Who would invest and run a company with an existing structure that would not necassarily be economically sustainable. Well done to the Norman family for stepping up to the plate! I believe the outcome for individual staff members will improve once the company and its new owners have had 3-5 years to establish solid financial performance. Get real NDU
On 31 May 2011 at 2:34 pm Mike said:
I see then the the union and its members will be putting their money upfront to buy the business and get the "favourable conditions" that they want. If that is the case then they can write their conditions. Otherwise put up or shut up.
On 31 May 2011 at 9:46 pm Martin said:
So ... they now have jobs and are worried about not get redundancy payouts from a company that has run out of money? He-ll-o. The logo may be the same but the company has changed. Ask the workers of the ChCh stores if they think they are beter off than these 900.
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