About 160 staff from Farmers, Whitcoulls and Pascoes retail chains face redundancy as the lockdown from Covid-19 bites.
Most job losses are expected to affect staff from Farmers' head office in New Zealand.
The mid-market department store owners Anne and David Norman of the James Pascoe Group sent a letter today to staff across all chains, outlining the private company's plans to reduce wages by up to 40 per cent as long as its stores cannot open its doors.
The pair said the reduced turnover from store closures would result in "saying goodbye to a number of team members".
First Union, which represents hundreds of Farmers workers, said it had been told that Farmers had signed off on redundancies for about 160 positions.
David Norman, group managing director of James Pascoe Group, declined to comment on the number of potential redundancies, but he said the entire group was affected, including in Australia, not just the Farmers chain.
"Sadly due to larger staff numbers than any of the other [James Pascoe Limited Group] NZ businesses, [Farmers] has had to carry a little more pain than most," Norman told the Herald.
Norman said the group was preparing to open all its 500 stores in Australia this week. He said the stores in Australia closed down after New Zealand and will re-open before those in New Zealand.
"The longer the JPL stores are locked down and unable to trade then the likelihood of further 'right sizing' action increases."
He said the Job Keeper allowance, Australia's equivalent to NZ's wage subsidy scheme, was "at a more realistic dollar value and for a considerably longer time period", which had resulted in few redundancies in the group's Australian business.
First Union said none of its members had been affected by the lay-offs, as it represented the chain's retail sales staff and not those in the support office.
A Farmers worker told the Herald that staff were first told about its plans to "disestablish some roles" in the first week of April.
Four people from the staffer's working department were made redundant as part of the restructure, but knew of many more people who had been let go throughout the company.
The worker said the company had kept its staff "in the dark" about the total number of people that had been let go and its current financial position.
Staff that were able to retain their jobs had no choice but to accept the reduction in pay proposed by the company. She said the retailer was not open to allow reduced hours of work to cover the reduced salary, the worker said.
"We are in a position where we don't have a choice but to do what we're told."
Staff at James Pascoe Group-owned retail chains are being paid 80 per cent of normal wages, but that was likely to drop down to 70 per cent in May and 60 per cent in June if stores were still not open then, according to a letter penned by the Normans sent to staff.
Salaried staff would receive 80 per cent of their normal pay or $585 per week - the Government wage subsidy - depending on which was higher.
James Pascoe Ltd received a wage subsidy payment of $2,724,249.60 for 429 workers on Wednesday last week.
"As our turnover will be lower than we have experienced in recent years we have no choice but to 'right size' our organisation which sadly means saying goodbye to a number of team members," the letter stated.
It went on to say that it was asking staff to "share some of the pain and by that we need you to accept that the company, with virtually no income cannot afford to keep anyone on full salary."
First Union organiser Kirsten Miller said the union was concerned about Farmers, and the James Pascoe Group's other chains', plans to continue paying its staff just 80 per cent of their wages when the stores reopened "until normal trading patterns resume".
"We're very concerned about that vague statement because that could go on and on forever - who is to say normal trading patterns will resume," she said.
"It's really difficult times at the moment and I know Farmers members have been doing it really tough. They are some of our lowest-paid retailer workers of those we represent."
First Union had been trying to contact the company about the situation but to no avail, she said.
"They have been very hard to communicate with," Miller said.
James Pascoe Group owns retail chains Farmers, Whitcoulls, Stevens, jewellery businesses Pascoes, Stewart Dawsons and Goldmark. In Australia, it owns Prouds and Angus and Coote.