Countdown workers, FIRST union members celebrate almost $100 extra a week under new rates

Around 7000 Countdown workers are enjoying the fruits of their labour after a new pay increase for eligible staff saw many receive an extra $2 an hour in their latest payslip.

The raise was agreed to in a Collective Agreement signed with Countdown last November, FIRST Union said in a statement on Thursday - an agreement that will guarantee thousands of Kiwis a living wage, "transparent rates and better pay". The pay boost came into effect in September.

Countdown workers with 12 months of service under their belt are now entitled to a minimum hourly rate of $21.15 - a raise of almost $2 per hour for many employees. 

"The pandemic has highlighted how reliant we are on our essential workers and the new pay scales take effect at a time when retaining and valuing our supermarket staff is more important than ever," said Tali Williams, FIRST Union's secretary for retail and finance.

Members of the non-profit union are entitled to the pay rise as of now, while non-members will receive the new rates in December.

The pay increase means a checkout operator - who has worked for Countdown for 12 months or more - will now have shifted from around $19 per hour to $21.35 as of September, making an additional $94 a week before tax. 

A full-time Countdown worker and union member with 12 months' service still on the adult minimum wage of $18.90, for example, will now be earning $846 a week pre-tax - or an extra $90 weekly.

Countdown Feilding assistant department manager, Isaac Mullin, says the bank boost will allow employees to spend more time focusing on the things that matter - and less time fretting about financial woes.

As a FIRST Union delegate, Mullin helped to negotiate the deal last year.

"This was about getting paid enough not just to survive, but to be able to live comfortably - to stop thinking paycheque to paycheque and be able to enjoy your free time a bit more," said Mullin.

"I know that for lots of people, this means more time with their families and more money to spend on them.

"So many people have been saying to me over the last couple of days that they didn’t realise it was going to be such a big increase in their pay - it will make a huge difference."

FIRST Union members at Countdown stores now receive the highest pay, on average, of all supermarket workers in New Zealand, Williams said.

"Many non-unionised New Worlds and Pak'nSaves are still paying minimum wage for most entry-level retail assistant roles, and even in unionised stores, the fight for better pay and conditions always happens store by store rather than as a workforce," she explained.

"A deal like this doesn’t happen by accident - it happens because people who work in the same company get together to solve the common problems they have, and raise the bottom for the worst off."

According to its website, more than 29,000 workers across New Zealand's finance, industrial, retail, manufacturing and transport sectors have joined FIRST Union to fight for decent work, safe workplaces and decent wages.