From Stuff: The National Distribution Union says it is outraged at proposed contract changes for staff at Whitcoulls and Borders, which were sold last week by administrators.

The contracts, given to staff on Friday to review over the weekend, scrap any previous redundancy payments and force workers to sign away any claims or grievances from their previous employer.

Employees have been given until the end of today to sign up to the new agreements. The union is calling for the contracts to be withdrawn and is seeking legal advice.

NDU general secretary Robert Reid said last week’s ”cautious optimism” about the deal has turned to outrage.

”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.

”Whitcoulls workers are being asked to sign away any entitlement to redundancy compensation, notice of termination of employment and any claims or grievances from their previous employer. 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.”

Reid said under this agreement, the new owner James Pascoe Group could hire a worker for one week and make them redundant the following week with no redundancy compensation.

”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.”

Reid said Farmers’ workers who were NDU members had a redundancy clause in their collective agreement with the chain of department stores.

”The NDU still believes that this is a good sale for the future of book retailing in New Zealand, but it should not be premised on the slashing of working conditions of the loyal staff.”

The Normans, owners of jewellery chains including Pascoes and department stores Farmers, on Thursday bought the Whitcoulls and Borders chains for an undisclosed sum from Australian entity REDgroup Retail.

REDgroup collapsed three months ago under huge debts and was placed in voluntary administration.

David Norman said last week they hoped to avoid any closures of the 57 Whitcoulls and five Borders stores but it would depend on talks with landlords and others.

“But should the very worst occur, then we pledge to offer any affected staff alternative employment.”

The purchase by James Pascoe, a Norman-associated company, from administrators Ferrier Hodgson followed a hiccup in the sales process two weeks ago when the two parties hit an impasse over job security for the New Zealand staff.

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