Harvest by Huckleberry, West Lynn. Photo: Simon Wilson

Harvest supermarket workers call off strike after living wage offered

Employees at organic supermarket chain have reached a deal for a living wage, reports Alex Braae 

A strike that was set to take place outside Grey Lynn organic grocery store Harvest has been called off, after an in-principle agreement was made to progressively move all staff to a living wage.

Huckleberry, who own the Grey Lynn retailer as well as eight others across Auckland and Tauranga, and a partnership store in Napier, have committed to a significant increase on current rates, and a living wage for all staff by May 2019.

The deal also includes a $3 an hour raise for on-site naturopaths.

FIRST Union organiser Stephen Parry hailed the decision from Huckleberry’s management to come back to the negotiating table, and said it set an example for other businesses in the sector.

“We’ve always thought the values of Huckleberry as a business, trading organic products, ethical products, fair trade products, really aligns with the living wage movement, and we’re really pleased the company has made a concrete commitment,” he said.

“I think that signals a real sea change in the expectations of retail workers, supermarket workers, and also the expectations of the public.”

Huckleberry CEO Richard Lees said the move would apply to all of their stores, and that it reflected on how much the business valued their staff.

He said as a new and growing business, the long period of negotiations reflected the amount of work needed to understand what they could offer staff.

“I think the negotiations we’ve had, we’ve made a lot of positive changes. As a small business growing to a bigger business, we needed to make them, so those have been done across the board for all our staff,” he said.

“These changes, the steps towards the living wage, it does support who we are as a business and how important our team is to us.”

Stephen Perry said the move reflected FIRST Union’s wider campaign, launched today, calling on retail businesses to offer a living wage generally, to give their staff a better quality of life.

“Fundamentally what it comes down to, is that people deserve to live with dignity. They shouldn’t have to be worried about where the next rent payment is coming from, or servicing debt so they can pay their bills.”

Retail workers are among the lowest paid workers in New Zealand. According to Stats NZ, more than 300,000 workers are in retail, trade and accommodation, median weekly earnings for that sector are $630 a week, well below the nationwide median income of $959 a week.

A worker at Harvest, who spoke anonymously before the threatened strike, said use of government assistance like the accommodation supplement is widespread, and due to inflation and cost of living increases in Auckland, life is getting more and more difficult.

Lees said Huckleberry’s move was an example for others in the retail sector.

“I think we have to be reflective of who we are. Hopefully for retail to work towards, that we value staff and we also value retail as a career, that’s important too.”

In advance of the launch of the campaign, L’Oreal also offered staff at its distribution centre in Mangere a living wage.

That move also followed threats of strike action.


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