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Whitcoulls buyer says most workers have signed

Wednesday 1st June 2011

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The James Pascoe Group (JPG) - controlled by the owners of the Farmers store chain, Anne and David Norman - says the "vast majority" of more than 900 Whitcoulls and Borders workers have accepted the contracts offered to them.

The purchase was conditional on the acceptance of more than 900 employee contracts and more than 60 leases by June 9.

"Only a small number of employees are still to accept and some 10 of those are on leave and are not in a position to do so," JPG said in a statement.

The National Distribution Union (NDU) today complained that Whitcoulls workers were being asked to sign away rights in the new employment contracts offered by the book store's new owners.

NDU general secretary Robert Reid described the contracts as a "blatant ruse" to force workers to sign out of their entitlements 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," he said.

But JPG said that only about 28 employees were members of the NDU, and that Whitcoulls and Borders currently had eight different employment contracts.

"Combining eight employment contracts into one has involved some changes but they are not significant," it said. Employees have been given at least four days to consider the offer. An 0800 helpline was provided to employees over the four day period and time extensions have been offered where requested.

All workers re-hired would get the same wage or salary as before and the working hours, plus accumulated annual leave, the balance of long service leave and balance of sick leave.

But Reid said that even at a conservative estimate, the 900 Whitcoulls workers in the sales process could have lieu payments and redundancy entitlements of $5000 each.

The union was seeking advice on the legality of the move, but there was also a moral and ethical issue of how any company should treat its staff, when those staff were in a vulnerable position.



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