Tussle over who has authority to require 22,000 staff to get vaccinated – local store owners or Auckland-based executive.
A vaccine mandate across all the North Island’s New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square supermarkets has been stalled by dissent among some store owners.
Australian-owned Countdown supermarkets announced this month that they were consulting staff on requiring them all to be vaccinated. But it’s more complicated for Foodstuffs, which is a cooperative made up of 330 member stores, employing more than 22,000 workers.
Foodstuffs North Island management presented a vaccine mandate proposal to members last week. Associate general counsel Julian Benefield is said to have told owners that nobody was being forced to be vaccinated. However, their employment would be terminated if they didn’t.
Submissions closed this week on Wednesday night. The company wants store owners to approve the mandate on December 16, and all owners and staff would be required to be fully compliant by February 20.
Sources said most owners had been supportive, but there were about 15 pushing back. The disagreement centres around whether this is a human resources matter and therefore a decision for each individual store owner, as employer.
Foodstuffs North Island management argues it is a health and safety matter, and therefore under corporate control by terms of franchise agreements.
“They’re getting blowback. We’ve always been independent, but now they’re acting like a corporate, trying to bully us and use health and safety as an excuse. And they haven’t even done a risk assessment on the vaccine.”
– Foodstuffs store owner
One store owner said the matter was by no means resolved, and there was still plenty of water to go under the bridge to reach resolution.
Another said there hadn’t been enough time to consult.
“They’re getting blowback,” the owner said. “We’ve always been independent, but now they’re acting like a corporate, trying to bully us and use health and safety as an excuse. And they haven’t even done a risk assessment on the vaccine.”
“We’re now considering the part vaccines play in our co-ops and we’re consulting on the roles that may need to be performed by people who are vaccinated against Covid-19. No decision will be made until the consultation period is complete and we’ve had a chance to consider all the feedback.”
– Emma Wooster, Foodstuffs NZ
Emma Wooster, corporate affairs manager for Foodstuffs NZ, said looking after staff and customers was a top priority for the company, and since the outbreak of Delta the company had been doing all it could to protect them.
“As New Zealand shifts from an elimination strategy against Covid-19 to preparing for the ongoing management of Covid-19 in our communities, we want to continue to do everything we can to create safe workplaces for our team and a safe place for New Zealanders to shop. This is even more important in an essential service business like ours.
“Vaccines are a key part of New Zealand’s strategy to keep people protected from Covid-19 and we’ve proud to have played our part in supporting our teams and as many New Zealanders as possible to get vaccinated.
“We’re now considering the part vaccines play in our co-op and we are consulting on the roles that may need to be performed by people who are vaccinated against Covid-19. Customers are not required to be vaccinated to shop with us in store.
“We are still in a genuine consultation and as part of that we have gone to our operators to seek their feedback as to how they want to handle management of Covid-19 related health and safety risks to keep our teams safe. No decision will be made until the consultation period is complete and we’ve had a chance to consider all the feedback.”