Child Cancer Foundation raises concerns about SaveMart workers' claims

FIRST Union, the union representing the workers, is taking action against SaveMart. Photo credit:

A charity that has received millions of dollars from a recycled clothing chain has expressed concern after claims workers were banned from wearing gloves, leaving them exposed to soiled clothing. 

Late last week Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported union workers who complained about unsanitary conditions at the New Lynn branch of the chain were then made redundant.

SaveMart employees told RNZ they were exposed to syringes, broken glass, used sex toys and clothing covered in blood and faeces while sorting through donated clothing.

Chief executive of Child Cancer Foundation Robyn Kiddle told Newshub the charitable organisation has had a long and supportive relationship with SaveMart for more than 20 years.

The foundation is a recipient of funds from the company, and Ms Kiddle said they had received around $3.5m in donations. But they have no control over any aspect of SaveMart.

"It's important to us that there is a synergy between the values of Child Cancer Foundation and those of our corporate partners.

"We do have concerns about the recent allegations and have discussed the issue with SaveMart."

Ms Kiddle said the company would be providing them with a report addressing the allegations.

"We expect to meet and discuss the report within the month; we will then be able to determine the next steps."

The union representing the workers, FIRST Union, is taking action against SaveMart.

FIRST Union organiser Graham McKean said WorkSafe staff investigated health and safety standards at the New Lynn store and the 10 union members working were given four weeks' redundancy.

Mr McKean told RNZ they were all women, and they had commitments and children. Some were solo mothers and were distraught, he said.

He could not say whether non-union staff had also been made redundant 

SaveMart has been since been swamped on social media with overwhelmingly negative responses.

One Facebook post from September 13 said: "If you are a customer of Savemart, next time you are shopping just remember that the clothes are NOT washed and are in bins alongside used syringes, soiled underpants, and bacteria". That post had more than 200 comments, many from former employees.

Jared Abbott, Secretary Transport, Logistics & Manufacturing Division at FIRST Union, said the charity should take its stickers off its donation bins. It was misleading people that donated to those bins, who assumed all the profits went to that charity, he said.

"Given the amount of feedback from previous employees, SaveMart shouldn't be allowed to operate in New Zealand."

He said dozens of workers had come forward following the allegations.

The union will be meeting with lawyers on Tuesday to discuss legal action to stop the dismissals. He said the women were currently working out their four-week notice period.