Countdown reveals new transgender-friendly policy

Countdown supermarket in west Auckland
Countdown, owned by Progressive Enterprises, said it has a responsibility to provide an "inclusive environment" (Dan Satherley/Newshub.)

Countdown supermarket has unveiled a new policy aimed at helping transgender staff.

"No matter your sex, age, ethnicity or gender identity, or sexual orientation, we want everyone to feel supported when they work at Countdown," says James Walker, general manager corporate affairs.

Countdown, owned by Progressive Enterprises, said as one of the largest employers in New Zealand it has a responsibility to provide an "inclusive environment" for its 18,000-strong staff - no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

To make this a reality, Mr Walker says staff transitioning from one gender to another will have the company's backing.

"That means having formal support processes in place for our transgender team members when they need it, such as when they wish to be known by their new name, using toilets and changing rooms that match their gender identity, and ensuring they can take time off for medical care relating to transition."

They can also wear clothes that match their gender identity, and have access to confidential counselling and support through the company's employee assistance programme.

Managers will be given training and assistance to help them use "the right language" when dealing with transgender staff members.

"We have several coaches who have extensive experience in helping people through the gender transitioning process, and can assist our leaders with potential conversations they might have with their teams," says Mr Walker.

No extra annual leave

It follows the supermarket's adoption of a policy late last year which gives staff up to two weeks off to deal with legal issues and use support services relating to family violence, on top of the usual annual and sick leave entitlements.

The transgender policy states staff members are entitled to take leave "for any medical treatments while transitioning". Progressive told Newshub there isn't any dedicated extra leave for transgender staff, but the company will "work with any individual team on their own requirements, should additional leave be needed".

Fresh Choice and SuperValue outlets may adopt the policy, Mr Walker told Newshub, but since they're franchised stores, it will be up to the individual owners.

Praise from the transgender community

Agender NZ praised Countdown's move.

"Countdown is definitely on the right track," said president Tracee Nelley.

Foodstuffs, which runs Pak'nSave and New World, said it too "welcomes and supports all people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation".

"We believe that every individual's journey is personal and we try and support each staff member according to their specific needs," head of external relations, Antoinette Laird told Newshub.

Foodstuffs is the larger of the two companies which make up New Zealand's supermarket duopoly.

Lack of funding

Gender reassignment surgery isn't currently carried out in New Zealand, as the only person who carried it out retired in 2014. Public funding for overseas operations is limited, coming from the Ministry of Health's high-cost treatment pool for "one-off treatments not otherwise funded by the public health system".

Presently, only four surgeries are funded every two years - three man-to-woman (costing around $40,000), and one woman-to-man ($180,000). The rate hasn't changed since it was set in 2003, despite growing public acceptance of transgender lifestyle and increasing demand.