SHARE
Worth it . . . Oamaru Farmers staff with First Union organiser Sonja Mitchell (right) joined Farmers' employees nationwide in asking for better remuneration. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Farmers department store employees are grading their employer’s performance an “F”.

Oamaru staff joined their national counterparts in taking strike action against their employer last week – the same day as the teachers’ strike.

Retail staff walked off the job at 2pm on Wednesday, leaving management serving large queues of customers.

The nationwide strike was due to a breakdown in talks between Farmers and its employees.

First Union organiser Sonja Mitchell said the main points of contention were the pay the employees were offered and the way performance-based assessments were done.

“The wages Farmers were offering were based around the minimum wage, and we are asking for the living wage for retail employees ($21.15),” Ms Mitchell said.

“They are tying a lot of pay to performance, and we have raised concerns about the way this system works.

“There is a conflict of interest there, because by giving people the performance rating they deserve, employers have to pay more.”

Performance pay systems could have a demotivating effect, she said.

“It is really an 80s model – we should have a system where we assume workers are doing their job and if they are not then we deal with that.

“But this system is just playing workers off against each other.”

Staff protesting outside the store said they felt like their whole year’s wages were based around what management felt like on the day.

Others thought their wages were not enough to pay for “extras”, like trips to the doctor or dentist.

Ms Mitchell said there were many discussions with retail chains at the moment around giving their employees the living wage – with the “Worth it” campaign pushing the massage that retail staff were worth the living wage.

“Some people who are better off in our society don’t understand the frustrations around this.

“Wages just have not kept up with living costs, and people are really struggling to get by day to day and fully participate in life.”

The two main issues in retail in general were people not getting enough hours, and not being paid enough for those hours, she said.

“Interestingly, the smaller stores tend to pay their staff better than the larger retail chains.

“There is a sense that wages have fallen too far behind the costs of living, and it would be fair to say a lot of employees are frustrated as heck.”

Farmers did not respond to the Oamaru Mail’s requests for comment.