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Bunnings trying for end run around employment law

Written By: - Date published: 9:55 am, March 18th, 2016 - 69 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, jobs, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Oh this is “clever”:

In March last year a Bunnings’ Warehouse in Wellington put out a letter to community groups, asking for help with its six-monthly stocktake.

The company offered them $12.50 an hour for each person who signed up – payment worded as a donation, not a wage. The current minimum wage is $14.25 an hour, rising to $14.75 at the start of April.

The volunteers would start at 4pm and work into the night, and they all had to be over 18. One of those who received the invitation was Louise Blair. The offer gave Bunnings cheap labour and let it flout employment rules, she said. …

Naturally Bunnings has a spin to put on it – that it is a “goodwill gesture” and an opportunity for “community groups”. Which might even be believable if (1) they paid the “volunteers” the same as staff, and (2) they didn’t have such an appalling record of exploiting their workers. (Bunnings are currently suspending staff from 29 shops who removed their branded aprons in a “low level” industrial protest).

The piece quoted above notes from an employment lawyer that “it was unclear whether the practice was legal or not, he said”. Better get it clarified soon or no doubt the practice of using “volunteers” will spread.

69 comments on “Bunnings trying for end run around employment law ”

  1. Sabine 1

    Stock take to volunteers.
    Funny in Germany all the large businesses employ people only for stock takes. Usually it is the over 16 years/student crowd that does these jobs, and they are all paid min. wage, it’s not a ‘volunteer’ service.

    But then why not, the NZ Fire only manages because of its ‘volunteer’ brigades. Without them NZ would burn. ( i spend 8 days over Christmas locked at home as the partner was on call 24 hours for 8 days starting 5 pm 25dec – 5 pm 1Jan – all volontary of course, cause paying times and half to a professional fire fighter would ruin the budget)
    St. John Ambulance Drivers are for the most part volunteer, tho i believe they get a few dollars for fuel etc.
    Marshalls at any of the racing events are volunteers, usually they get a really crappy sandwich/drink and a 10/15$ fuel voucher.
    And so on and so on and so on.

    Why should businesses not follow lead. I am sure Bunnings could run their business only with volonteers. Heck NZ is running many services with volunteers as the budget to employ people and the will to employ people is simply not there. Taxcuts, however are of utmost importance.

    • Jones 1.1

      I don’t think Bunnings and the NZ Fire Service are a fair comparison.

      The NZ Fire Service does not have the revenue to afford for all of its brigades to be full-time fire fighters. It’s revenue is restricted to what it receives by way of the fire and insurance levy (diminishing year on year) and whatever costs it is permitted to recover through legislation such as false alarms and hazardous substance call outs.

      Bunnings on the other hand is a large transnational profit-driven enterprise with considerably more revenue. They should at least be able to pay their stocktakers minimum wage.

      • Sabine 1.1.1

        NZ would burn without its Fire Service, and yet the large majority of them is not paid, does it in their own time, on their own dime, and the families ‘support their partners’ or leave. But in saying that, what I was trying to point out, that if it is ok for the Government to essentially refuse to pay for vital services as the Fire Services and hire enough professional fire fighters to have a full cover of the Holiday Period, and with that i mean a fully paid cover over the Holiday period, why would businesses not follow suit? Essentially the Stations over Christmas that were manned by ‘voluntary firefighters’ had staffed their stations very cheaply and did not have to pay wages, over time, night shifts and/or holiday pay.

        btw. i saw a call out for ‘voluntary police’ to patrol neighborhoods as obviously we don’t have enough paid cops anymore.

        Bunnings is quite right to point out that ‘its voluntary staff’ is still paid, and that it is an excellent cash resource for cash strapped ‘voluntary services’.
        What if we would pay our volontary services first, then maybe they don’t need to work for less then the minimum wage for Bunnings to find some cash to continue financing the services they voluntarily provide to the community.

        Or we raise taxes, and start funding on a governmental level our ‘voluntary services’ and hire enough man/women to do the jobs that are now being done unpaid by volunteers, and Bunnings would not have cash strapped community groups to work for less then the minimum wage in order to raise money.

        • Rosie

          Sabine, I’ve always been baffled that our fire fighters aren’t highly paid permanent public service employee’s. Same with ambulance workers. Why does the group that our very lives depend upon do their work on an unpaid volunteer basis? I find it morally wrong.

          • weka

            Some firefighters in NZ are employed and do get paid.

            Do the volunteer firefighters want to be paid? Are they taking jobs from people who would normally get paid? Is the service struggling because it doesn’t pay people? Does the service maintain a high level of integrity? Let’s weigh that up against the value of having such core people in small communities organise themselves to to critical work without needing to be employed to do it. Not all worthy things need paying for. Let’s not mess with something that is working.

            You can add SAR to the list too.

            I don’t think any of that has anything to do with Bunnings. Bunnings would be ripping off their employees no matter what anyone else was doing.

            • Rosie

              Yes, thats right, there are paid fire fighters. What worries me is that we take volunteers that save lives for granted. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have volunteers, they will always be needed and would provide an excellent back up to permanent employees if there were ever to be any.

              I’ve simply always been puzzled about this reliance on free labour for something as critical as saving lives. We don’t expect doctors to be volunteer workers when we turn up with life threatening vehicle injuries at 3am.

              There will always be people that give because thats in their nature to do so, and that is right, as individuals who act selflessly bring a sense of cohesion to a community.

              • weka

                I guess I don’t understand your point. I live in a small community that relies on a volunteer fire brigade (and have been dependent on them) and I definitely don’t take them for granted. How does them not being paid employees equate them being taken for granted?

                • Molly

                  “How does them not being paid employees equate them being taken for granted?”

                  Not really an answer to your question but it reminded me that not all community appreciates the value of volunteer fireservices.

                  Our local volunteer group is just down the road, and is called out five to six times a week.

                  For many years on Christmas morning, the volunteers get into their fire trucks – dress up a couple as Santa Claus, and deliver small bags of lollies to the local residents.

                  Due to the development of new subdivisions, this Christmas morning activity away from their families is taking longer and longer, and last year they decided to stop at the ends of the new culs de sac, and hand out the lollies at strategic points of the streets. (The number of houses in the community has more than doubled in the last five years).

                  The first week of January delivered a strongly worded complaint letter to the brigade about their failure to come to every residence, and how they would be writing about this disgrace to the local paper.

                  Another complaint letter was about the proximity of the fire station to the new houses, and how the alarm was too loud.

                  The football club then took umbrage at the decision to put Reserved signs on the three closest parking spaces (on council land), to allow volunteers to park and exit as quickly as possible during a callout, and then sent an invoice for a quarter share of resurfacing the 170 space council owned park.

                  I’m not one of those who think people only appreciate things they pay for, but I do think that some of these services should be reimbursed in some way. I haven’t really given this much thought, but do have a high regard for these and many other volunteers that provide the support services every community needs.

                  • weka

                    Those are depressing stories Molly. They reflect the loss of community and the rise of overentitlement that’s come with neoliberalism. I think the solution to that is to rebuild community. Paying volunteer firefighters won’t increase respect from those people and it just reinforces the idea that everything worthwhile has to be paid for (another neoliberalism). But I can see a time coming when volunteers will want to be paid simply because the wider society is so selfish.

                • Rosie

                  I was just flowing on from Sabines point about fire fighters in comment 1.1.1. My point is why do we value life savers differently in terms of payment and non payment, eg, Dr’s Vs. fire fighters. Your view of valuing fire fighters might be different in a smaller community to what I see in a city too. Even in our suburb the fire station siren is a frequent sound, so volunteers seem to be working around the clock. In a larger community there is less personal connection with fire fighters, so there is more opportunity for them to be taken for granted. (I’ve seen it first hand with some of the idiot behaviour on my street)

                  Fire fighters aside. I am thinking more broadly about the growing community volunteer sector. Theres increasing competition for donations from the public to fund their work – work that could arguably be governments responsibility. I’m thinking of Kids Can as an example. (Also look at the growing number of give a little type campaigns for medical care – that should be govt responsibility).

                  If theres an opportunity to exploit the needs of an organisation in a competitive community sector then Bunnings have seized upon that.

            • Sabine

              Weka, the queston is not do the volunteer firefighter want to get paid.
              The question is should the volunteer firefighter (after putting in an 8 hour workday to pay the bills) replace paid firefighter to keep costs down.
              The question is, is it fair on the families of the volunteer firefighters to have their partners, fathers, mothers do a job in their own time (cutting short family time) and run the risk of getting injured on the job, or heaven forbid die on the job. Who will look after the families if that happens, or are we happy to send them to deal with WINZ?

              The question is, is it fair for a volunteer firefighter to be ON CALL, 24 hours for 8 days straight over a holiday period covering Christmas Eve, Christmas Day,New Years Eve and New Years Day, while not getting paid, nor even getting a dinner at the station.
              I am not sure you know what it means to be ON CALL, it means that you have to be within a certain time frame from the station, something like 2 – 3 min from the time the beeper goes off. That means, not going anywhere unless it is situated next to the station.

              The question is, why do we not have a paid force that is capable of covering a normal business period, and have volunteers for back up in case a to large fire is happening.

              My partner, and the partner of a fellow ‘spouse’ spend a full week of their holiday period sitting at home waiting for a beeper to go off, while the paid force was on holdiay i guess. We did not get to spend time with our families, we did not get to have a glass of wine on Xmas eve, or New Years eve, and we did not get a thank you card.

              What i am alluding to, if you care to re-read my comment is that i am referring to a certain mindset. Namely why pay for a service if you can have someone do it for free.
              Fact is that there are Cities in NZ that depend wholesale on a volunteer force to cover basic emergency services.
              Fact is that there is a large part in NZ that would vote for a Tax Cut anytime, and refuse to pay for certain services cause they don’t use them, or they ‘could’ pay for it in an emergency.
              Fact is that there is a large part in NZ that has no issues with Bunnings undercutting standard wages in order to get something for free.

              Maybe in the future the voluntary emergency personel will do Stock Take at Bunnings at cut price to ‘fundraise’ for a new Fire Truck or Ambulance. And guess what, fundraising for these things is already done, as the Government does not pay fully for it.
              I am talking about a mindset, and I use an example that i am familiar with.

              BTw. My partner will give up another week of his life, and mine 🙂 to make sure that no ones house will burn down, he will happily run into a burning house to make sure no ones comes to harm, and he will do so for the next full week.

              Its the mindset Weka. Why pay, when you can have it for free or cut throat price.

              • weka

                “The question is should the volunteer firefighter (after putting in an 8 hour workday to pay the bills) replace paid firefighter to keep costs down.”

                Are you saying that there is a move to replace paid firefighters with volunteer ones?

  2. dv 2

    So what is the tax situation?

    • Excellent question! I assume that Bunnings will make a bulk payment to the charities concerned, rather than pay the workers individually. Which I guess may have tax benefits for them as well.

      It is still getting actual work, that should be done by staff members, done on the cheap.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        They won’t be paying PAYE or ACC, and any other relevant taxes, either.

      • alwyn 2.1.2

        An organisation my wife belongs to used to do this, although not for Bunnings.
        The organisation gets all the money which is paid. The people doing the work don’t get anything. It is a very easy way to raise money for the organisation. The people doing the work aren’t liable for any PAYE, so the charity, community organisation or whatever gets to keep the lot.
        That is probably why it is classed as a donation rather than pay.

        People are saying that the employees get out of doing it. They don’t. They will all be there during the count and working. The mass of other people are there so that the count can be done in a reasonable length of time. I don’t know how many people a store employs normally but I doubt if it is as many as 100 in even the biggest. Imagine how long it would take to do a count in something as large as a Bunnings store. They want to get the count done in a day, not a fortnight.

        I can’t see how it would have any particular tax implications for Bunnings. Whether they pay people or give a donation to an organisation it would still be an expense which is deductible from their income wouldn’t it?

        This is supposition on my part of course. I have absolutely nothing to do with Bunnings.

        • weka

          “The people doing the work aren’t liable for any PAYE, so the charity, community organisation or whatever gets to keep the lot.”

          Not quite. Bunnings are paying less than they would if they were employing people. They could have paid the same hourly rate as they pay their employees and given the lot to the community group. But they chose a lesser rate. This could all be circumvented if they weren’t calculating it on an hourly basis. Because they are, it looks like cheap labour.

          • alwyn

            I’m not trying to justify the quoted rate weka.
            I am just pointing out that there could be good reasons, other than trying to get round minimum wage rates, for wording it the way they do.
            There was also someone suggesting that the permanent staff would get out of the job and they certainly won’t.

            • Lanthanide

              “I am just pointing out that there could be good reasons, other than trying to get round minimum wage rates, for wording it the way they do.”

              That might be the case, but the fact is they ARE getting around the minimum wage rates.

              So surely, whatever those “good reasons” are, like helping out a community group, would be even further enhanced if they paid the minimum wage rate.

        • vto

          “I have absolutely nothing to do with Bunnings”

          besides buying your brain from the Bunnings bargain bin

          with 15% off

          • alwyn

            My God you’re funny. Well actually you aren’t. You just think you are.
            Your comment is best summed up by a statement of your own

            Interest rates and banks

          • left for dead

            No vto, he then ducks around to that other large store for a further 15 %, still think he’s been over charged. Ha

      • NZJester 2.1.3

        Can they use that to claim money back from the government on the so called donations?

  3. maui 3

    Had a couple of jobs in recent years where the contract was a verbal lump sum for a set piece of work. In each case it ended up in me mostly working for well below the minimum wage.

    If they could find stats on how many kiwis (I’m not even talking about migrants here) are working for below the min wage, I think it would be frightening.

    • adam 3.1

      It seems back to the situation with contract work that the Clark lead government dealt with.

      This is why I loath Tory governments, they always changing the laws back to the stupid ones that did not work in the first place.

      Like the changes to the RMA they are spouting, utter fail.

      This government is perpetually stupid when it comes to employment, and workers rights.

      They have made a mockery of minimum wage laws, in essence they have become a sick joke.

      • maui 3.1.1

        Yeah man, we know how this Gov works, exploit workers for profit. That’s the religion many of their rich business owning funders follow.

        Some people would say well you have choice on who you work for. But employers have a lot of control and power over their workers, in effect if they control the money flow to a person then they control their lives in lots of ways. We need to explore more aspects of a sharing economy I reckon to remove that power dynamic.

        • Draco T Bastard

          A UBI removes that power dynamic which is why National will never support it. A UBI would pretty rapidly have all their rich donors out of workers and out of money real fast.

          • Graeme

            I’m not sure a lot of them are open minded enough to see it that way. Most I’ve spoken to see it as a subsidy of wages, they’re expecting a corresponding reduction in the minimum wage, and removing any responsibility to provide 40 hrs. I haven’t done anything to dissuade them from their perception, could be quite entertaining if it comes in and they have to get people to want to work for them.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      If they could find stats on how many kiwis (I’m not even talking about migrants here) are working for below the min wage, I think it would be frightening.

      Yep. Contractors doing piece work in construction often end up getting less than minimum wage.

      There was a woman on TV a week or two ago whinging about not being able to get pickers for her orchards. She mentioned that she was paying $25/hour which sounds good but it was contract work for a fixed amount. If you picked the amount stated in one day then you would get $25/hour. If it took you two days, which is more likely, you’d get $12.50. And then you got to take out tax, holiday pay, ACC and a few other expenses. Chances are you’d probably end up paying to go to work on the rate that she was paying.

  4. slumbergod 4

    Shame on Bunnings! I actually emailed them and told them my family would no longer buy anything from their stores until they follow fair practises.

    It’s simple. If there is work to be done it should be paid for fairly.

  5. kiwigunner 5

    I often wonder why we spend so much time raising money for Starship and Hospice etc. I’m a bit tired of the amount of times the flag money could have been spent on something else by a minimum of $26m for either of these two places would have done wonders. Surely this type of thing is core govt.

    • Sabine 5.1

      it should be, like the Westpac Helicopter Rescue, the Fire Services, the Ambulance Services, Hospice Care, Councelling Services, Domestic Violence Shelters, Police and the myriad of other ‘voluntary services’ that people manage on their own because Government refuses to do their job, and raise the funds via taxes.
      Bunnings is simply just doing what Government is doing, and what Citizens are doing, not paying for a service received.

      Bunnings – not paying a wage
      Government – not hiring needed emergency staff – cause to much costs, must reduce tax
      Citizens – voting for a government that cuts tax, and then waiting for someone to volunteer to save their house in the case of a fire.

      all the same symptoms of greed that slowly but surely destroy the community.

      • vto 5.1.1

        The irrigation fund farmers should be getting volunteers to build their dams, instead of taking money for their business which should be going to your said organsations.

      • weka 5.1.2

        Some of the things you name are core funded by the govt (eg the Fire Service). And they’ve used volunteers from within those communities for a lot longer than neoliberalism has been around. Best ask those communities how it’s working before lumping them all in with an ideologiy that says voluntary work is somehow inherently wrong.

  6. Guerilla Surgeon 6

    Dammit, I need some paint. Oh well, mitre 10 mega here I come.

  7. BM 7

    I’m guessing the $12.50 is cash in hand.

    For a employee on minimum wage after you take off tax and stuff the take home pay per hour is around $12,40.

    No one is getting ripped off and Bunnings is helping community groups to raise a bit of money.

    • vto 7.1

      BM, this undermines labour laws and working people.

      Do you not care about working people? Eh?

      Bunnings need to be thrashed by the law over this – dragged over the coals and punished to the maximum extent possible

      • BM 7.1.1

        No it doesn’t.

        Stock take sucks arse.
        I bet the Bunnings employees were stoked they didn’t have to do it.

        Happy employees and community groups raising money, a win win for everybody.

        • vto

          Of course it does.

          By volunteers doing it means less jobs are available for working people.

          • BM

            It would have been get some people from a Labour hire company or get a community group.

            • vto

              Community group wins

              At working people’s loss

              It undermines labour laws and working people

              Don’t try to argue that grass aint green BM, it does you no good. You know, I was reminded of a great saying earlier today which goes….

              “it is difficult to win an argument with an intelligent person, but impossible to win an argument with a stupid person”

            • Lanthanide

              Or, they could pay the community group the minimum wage. Community group wins even more!

        • weka

          “I bet the Bunnings employees were stoked they didn’t have to do it.”

          I bet it doesn’t occur to you to ask them though, because hey, we all live in a world where people are grateful to have less work and no-one needs overtime just to pay the bills.

          Bunnings are ripping people off. The taxpayer by not paying tax and ACC levies, and their employees by giving the work to someone else because it is cheaper.

        • millsy

          There are probably people who wouldn’t mind a second job stock taking at night to top up their income…

  8. Rosie 8

    Yeah, Bunnings again. Definitely a “badwill gesture” to hire staff below minimum wage and use community groups as a front for exploitative and illegal behaviour. Am surprised that their PR people can not see how this is a bad move for them.

    Nothing goodwill about it. If they wanted to demonstrate goodwill all they need to do is DONATE to an organisation (s).

    As for the suspension for the temporary removal of a uniform item (apron) this really isn’t in the spirit of good faith bargaining. Bunnings have dug their toes in in this long running negotiation and at the moment are starting to look more and more like Talleys. Remember Talleys spat the dummy about staff wearing Union T shirts – so both being heavy handed over attire.

    • adam 8.1

      Good faith, is not something Tories of any strip understand when it comes to employment.

      Both the companies you mention have a fetish with having to be right.

      I just won’t shop at bunnings after witnessing a manager acting like an ass to a worker, then him getting more upset when I called him on it. Just typical of small minded people with a modicum of power, and a system which encourage them to abuse it.

  9. gsays 9

    the way i see it this is mainly two stories.
    it is the foreign company undermining kiwi jobs and being evil etc …

    the other story as a volunteer in a few organisations is this is a wonderful way to get a few more dollars into the always empty coffers.
    inside, set times, reasonably well renumerated, older teens can help…

    i would be careful over reacting to this as i think you will find in many towns around the provinces, supermarkets, building supplies, the warehouse etc do this and it is generally well received.

    • Rosie 9.1

      I think a line needs to be drawn g. Bunnings are blurring the lines between legitimate legal employment and “community work”. It’s simply exploitative. Like I said, if they “want to be seen to be supporting community organisation” then just stump up with the $$$.

      In all my long dreary years in retail, stock take has always been undertaken by student job search staff – shitty minimum wage but legal and clear. Work sites are for workers not for charities.

      • gsays 9.1.1

        tis a hard one rosie, personally when it came to stocktake in a hospitality envoronment, i made stuff up.
        hated the job.

        the other irony is that the parents that turn up to help with these fundraisers are often coming out of an employment environment that is not too dis-similar to the bunnings one.

        • weka

          I’d have less of a problem with it if they weren’t being bad employers. Hard to trust their motivations re the community thing when that is going on.

        • Rosie

          Yes, I’d run for the hills any time “stock take” was mentioned g 😀

          • gsays

            hi rosie/weka,
            have had a few days to mull this over and have a coupla korero.
            ironically on a scout camp.

            your comment rosie, “Work sites are for workers not for charities.” has really resonated.
            beautifully succint.

            have come to see that things are different to as they were 10 yr ago.
            the changes to the workplace and the conditions under which labour is done has tipped a balance away from the worker.
            bunnings recent behaviour to unpinnied team members being a brilliant example

            therefore (as in pokie funding) a bunnings stocktake is a no go in my eyes.
            cheers for the exchange

  10. Tiger Mountain 10

    “Bummings” have to go to facilitated bargaining apparently under the ERA, after April 1 when new Labour Standards Act comes in i.e. no zero hours

  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    The piece quoted above notes from an employment lawyer that “it was unclear whether the practice was legal or not, he said”. Better get it clarified soon or no doubt the practice of using “volunteers” will spread.

    Can’t see how it could be unclear. It’s a commercial business getting commercial work done.

  12. Rosie 12

    PS. The RNZ piece mentions the minimum wage is $14.25 an hour. It’s rising from $14.75 to $15.25 in April.


  13. UncookedSelachimorpha 13

    A simple ripoff and I suspect illegal. People can donate their wages to charity if they want. Consider:

    Situation 1 (normal). Person works. Pays Tax. Donates to charity, all tax rebated assuming charity registered. Charity gets $14.75 per hour worked at minimum wage.

    Situation 2 (Bunnings scheme). Person works. No tax. Money donated directly from employer to charity. Charity gets $12.50 per hour worked. Only person benefiting compared to (1) is Bunnings, which saves themselves $2.25/h

    Less goes to charity per hour worked due to the breach of minimum wage.

    Oh wait – Bunnings probably also claims a tax credit on the $12.50 going to charity, ripping off the tax payer and making even more profit for themselves.

    Bunnings makes large and growing profits, yet they rip off workers and charities for $2.25 per hour.

  14. grumpystilskin 14

    They’ve lost my business now, I know that probably won’t hurt them but if everyone reading this page did the same the impact will soon mount up.

    • gsays 14.1

      yes grumpy, or if we as a populace got it together to only buy caltex petrol for the next three months…
      watch competition emerge in that market!

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