Cottoning on to new ways of exploiting workers

Cotton On have hit the news for all the wrong reasons, with FIRST Union revealing that they’re pushing to remove guaranteed rest and meal breaks from workers in their distribution centre. FIRST General Secretary Robert Reid says:

“Breaks are crucial on industrial sites because they keep people safe. Worker fatigue is a risk on an industrial site like the Cotton On distribution centre. Removing breaks increases the risk to workers. After the government’s law changes removing tea and meal breaks is legal, but that does not make it ethical or sensible”

Labour’s labour spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway demonstrates how this absolutely puts the lie to John Key’s promises about his unfair employment law changes:

“John Key told Kiwis who work for a living that their tea breaks would not be taken away from them by the law change. Yet at the very first opportunity, we see a large employer trying to claw back their staff’s right to a break.

“John Key also told us that the law change was about supporting small New Zealand businesses. Yet the first to take advantage of it is a wealthy Australian corporation.

“And John Key said that industries such as hospitality and air traffic control were the ones that needed the law change. Yet people working in retail with predicable customer demand are the first to be hit.

It really defies belief – at least, if you’re a person who understands that workers aren’t robots and that there’s some basic principles which are more important than profit – like making sure every worker goes home safe and well at the end of their shift, not worn out like a machine part.

But look at Cotton On’s own weaselly, misleading defence of themselves:

In response to recent comments made by First Union NZ, the Cotton On Group would like to make it clear that no changes have been made to our workers’ rights in any of our distribution centres. Negotiations are currently in place between the Cotton On Group and First Union with no agreement having yet been made.

The Cotton On Group is committed to having highly engaged staff and we have an effective two-way communication process in place, by way of implementation of our consultative committees which exist in each of our DCs globally, allowing each and every one of our people to have a voice.

To ensure we can maintain the integrity of the negotiation process we are committed to continue our conversations with First Union until an agreement is made. Our people and their working conditions have and always will be our top priority.

That’s literally the whole statement. In the first paragraph, they try to misdirect you about the facts of the matter: FIRST’s release is very clear that these are changes being negotiated (demanded) by Cotton On in bargaining. The second paragraph reads like it was written by the people behind the infamous Target union-busting video.

And the third paragraph is simply a lie. “Your people” (or as Cotton On and Target both call them, “our team members”) and their working conditions simply can’t be your top priority if you’re trying to take away the guaranteed breaks they already get under their agreement!

When the Employment Relations Amendment Bill was proposed, then-Minister of Labour Simon Bridges made a great hue and cry about “flexibility” and “fairness” in the workplace. Cotton On is showing us exactly what that means – and sadly, they won’t be the only ones.

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