Bunnings staff have been suspended without pay for refusing to wear their work aprons.
Bunnings Dunedin decorator team member Alax Robinson (31), of Dunedin, said he was in a group of about 20 staff suspended without pay from the Dunedin store yesterday afternoon.

The suspended staff were First Union Inc members undertaking the strike action of refusing to wear their branded work aprons.

The union members at Bunnings across New Zealand had decided on the strike action because it would not interrupt the normal business operation.

About 60% of the about 80 staff at the Dunedin store were union members, he said.

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The Dunedin store was the only Bunnings outlet in Otago and Southland.

As he was among the first staff suspended, he was unaware of the fate of the other union members working yesterday.

The father of two had worked at Bunnings Dunedin nearly six years.

"I've given my heart and soul to the job ... I'm furious because I feel like I've been bullied.''

Mr Robinson lived on a tight budget and after being suspended, he immediately offered to wear his apron.

The offer was refused by Bunnings Dunedin operation manager Lara Wilson because some staff had removed their aprons sporadically throughout the day.

Although he had only removed his apron once, he was suspended from 2.30pm yesterday.

"Your employment is suspended until the strike actions ends, or Bunnings withdraws the suspension notice,'' the company notice advised.

Mr Robinson said the staff were striking because Bunnings wanted to change its collective employment agreement.

At present, if anyone wanted to change a shift on the roster, it had to be agreed to by management and staff.

Bunnings wanted to change the word "in agreement'' in a clause to "in consultation''.

"They will consult with us about a change to the roster, but basically they can impose whatever they want.''

Bunnings also wanted to remove a clause allowing staff to decide if they worked on a public holiday.

"They are trying to make it, if it is your rostered day to work, you have to work it, unless you have applied for leave in advance.''

He believed the strike action would continue until Bunnings agreed to keep the status quo.

Bunnings had also given non-union staff members a pay rise and refused to give the union members the same rise rise while strike action continued.

"It's discriminatory; they are treating us really badly.''

Ms Wilson declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Bunnings head office in Auckland did not respond to questions yesterday.

First Union retail and financial officer Maxine Gay said she was unaware how many staff had been suspended in Dunedin, or across New Zealand, but the union was investigating.

Ms Gay said a Bunnings staff member in Palmerston North was given a suspension notice yesterday while serving a customer and wearing his apron.

"It is absolutely ludicrous,'' Ms Gay said.