An iconic name gets to live on but staff members redundancy payments do not.

The National Distribution Union says it is outraged at proposed new employment contracts for staff at booksellers, Whitcoulls and Borders, which were sold last week by administrators.

The contracts, given to staff at the end of last week to review over the weekend, scrap any previous redundancy payments and force workers to sign away any claims or grievances relating to their previous employer.

Employees have only been given until the end of today to sign up to the new agreements. The union is calling for the contracts to be withdrawn and is seeking legal advice.

NDU general secretary Robert Reid said last week’s ”cautious optimism” about the deal has turned to outrage.

”Never in my 30 years of working as a trade unionist have I ever seen such a blatant ruse to force workers to sign out of their rights and entitlements in a business transfer situation,” Reid said.

”Whitcoulls workers are being asked to sign away any entitlement to redundancy compensation, notice of termination of employment and any claims or grievances from their previous employer. If the administrator made workers redundant today, it would have to make a lieu-of-notice payment and redundancy payment, up to a cap of $18,600 per person.”

Reid said under this agreement, the new owner James Pascoe Group “could hire a worker for one week and make them redundant the following week with no redundancy compensation.”

”Even at a conservative estimate, the 900 Whitcoulls workers in the sales process could have lieu payments and redundancy entitlements of $5000 each.

”This means that Whitcoulls’ workers are being forced to contribute almost half a million dollars of entitlements to the sale….it could well be double that.”

”The NDU still believes that this is a good sale for the future of book retailing in New Zealand, but it should not be premised on the slashing of working conditions of the loyal staff.”

New owner David Norman said ”The offer of employment is on terms consistent with the majority of those employed by the James Pascoe Group, there is a little give and take required but in my opinion all staff members will be better off plus when certainty of employment and staff purchase benefits are added, the team at Whitcoulls will be considerably better off.”

Comment

The new owners are always going to want to get a ‘fire sale’ deal. It is ownly natural that they would not want to be held accountable for any grievences or disuptes relating to the previous owners.

It is certainly not uncommon these days to have no redundancy clauses in individual employement agreements. Especially in the retail and service sectors.

If they are put in it is often only ‘bare bones’ provisions of 4 weeks pay plus a week for every year of employment. This is usually capped.

Most of the Whitcoulls and Borders workers in New Zealand were facing job loses. Many will be grateful to still have a job even of the terms are not as favourable as they had previously.