Watercare defends $140,000 per year spend on free Subway meals for workers

Watercare staff receive free sandwiches from Subway every day that they work.
Watercare staff receive free sandwiches from Subway every day that they work. Photo credit: Getty Images

Watercare has defended paying for daily Subway meals for some employees working in Auckland.   

Amid discussions on AM earlier on Wednesday about the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi offering free pies to employees working on the Mt Messenger bypass project, a Watercare worker emailed the show saying they too were provided with free lunch - theirs being a daily meal from fast food giant Subway.

"Not all Watercare locations do this, but we get shouted $15 worth of Subway a day - Monday to Friday," the email said. "They load $75 per week through the Subway app and you can use $15 per day, which is reasonable. 

"You cannot save it and if you don't use it, you lose it. Your balance gets wiped at the end of the week and reloaded for Monday. 

"This suits us because we are never in one place, we are out in the field fixing burst mains and sorting overflows. No other company I know does this," the email added. 

After queries from Newshub, Watercare chief operations officer Mark Bourne confirmed it provides some staff with free lunches every shift to ensure they maintain their "energy and physical strength". 

Bourne said staff often go for "quite long stretches before they are able to take a meal break".  

Less than 6 percent of the workforce receives a free $15 footlong sub per shift, meaning Watercare spends $140,000 per year for a field crew of about 70 workers, he said.  

"Given the absence of access to fridges and microwave ovens during their fieldwork, maintaining the freshness of their packed lunches becomes challenging," Bourne explained. 

He said the conditions staff work in, particularly wastewater crews, make their trucks "less than ideal" for storing food. 

Bourne believes Subway is a "healthy meal option" for workers' breaks. 

"Considering the physically demanding nature of their daily tasks, it is crucial for these crews to be well-nourished to sustain their energy and physical strength," he explained.  

"Watercare's provision of a voucher for a daily meal, including carbohydrates, protein and vegetables, is a contribution to their overall physical well-being."  

He said the convenience of Subway ensures staff are always within a short drive to get their meal during their break and allows them "enough time to sit down and enjoy their food", he said.  

Bourne explained the use of the app helped eliminate queues in store to maximise the "efficiency of their lunch break".  

He said the meals are only allocated to staff rostered on that specific day and, if they are unsused, they expire on that same day.  

"Watercare takes pride in offering this essential support to its staff, acknowledging the vital role they play in maintaining the flow of water and ensuring the safety of the environment in the communities they serve." 

He told Newshub the free meals were not paid for by council rates. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the hosts of AM were discussing Waka Kotahi's 'Whānau Friday' pie day, where staff working in the remote area of Mt Messenger Bypass receive a pie on a Friday once a month.  

Mt Messenger Bypass project spokesperson Caleb Perry told Newshub the cost of the initiative was roughly $400 per month.  

He said up to 100 workers participate in the monthly gatherings, with some food bought from Waitara and other food bought through New Plymouth.  

"From time to time some subcontractors and individuals will contribute to the cost of the food for Whānau Friday while others regularly bring home baking to work to share with their colleagues, which helps to keep the monthly costs low. 

"The cost of the initiative is a relatively small investment which helps to connect teams and build morale for people working in a remote environment," he added.  

He said those working 50km north of New Plymouth experienced "very challenging conditions".  

Perry said the free meal builds "connections and morale amongst team members".  

It looks after workers' wellbeing and ensures the project is a great place to work, he said. 

This article was amended because it incorrectly stated free meals are provided to all Watercare staff. The meals are in fact only provided to less than 6 percent of the workforce and the story has been amended accordingly.