Supermarket workers who have been given a financial boost by Foodstuffs and Countdown will next week have their bonus chopped, leaving many angry and feeling "pretty crushed".

Staff at the supermarkets were given the 10 per cent pay boost from the end of March to recognise their efforts during a manic period for the grocery giants.

Tali Williams, of First Union, says that's about to come to an end next week, when the country moves into alert level 3. However, the risk to supermarket workers will continue.

A Countdown spokesperson said the bonus was only for essential workers during alert level 4, but it would be implementing the living wage from September, for all staff who have worked there 12 months or more.


Foodstuffs says it "makes sense" for wages to return to normal and business owners can reward their teams independently for their hard work.

Williams said workers continued to risk their safety, "often for poverty wages, so that the rest of us can stay home and eliminate the spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand as we've been asked to do".

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"Many supermarket workers are telling us that they're scared and stressed, overworked and struggling with rent, and the 10 per cent bonus from employers was one of the only things keeping them afloat."

Williams labelled the move a "backwards step".

"Supermarket workers are understandably angry and feeling pretty crushed.

"After finally getting the recognition they deserve for holding their communities together during a crisis, it seems that Countdown and Foodstuffs don't think they're worth a living wage after all.


"There's no such problem for the supermarkets themselves, who have quite simply been raking it in."

Williams said workers had told the Union that demand for groceries had "literally doubled in recent weeks" as New Zealanders cooked at home, not to mention the initial panic buying rush.

"Nobody should be earning less than the living wage while they put their lives on the line during a pandemic that has already killed over 180,000 people globally where essential workers are especially vulnerable."

Hamilton 4-year-old Kaea with her drawing of a heart to go on their family's trolley as a sign of solidarity with supermarket workers. Photo / Supplied
Hamilton 4-year-old Kaea with her drawing of a heart to go on their family's trolley as a sign of solidarity with supermarket workers. Photo / Supplied

Two Countdown staff members spoken to by the Herald were disappointed to be losing the bonus.

One said it made being potentially exposed to Covid-19 on a daily basis worth it as working through level alert 4 had "not been a fun time".

The staffer said she was yet to get her bonus, which she was expecting as one lump sum next week.

"We're all tired, over-worked and quite frankly over the craziness of it all. Most customers are good but some people are *****," she said.

Another worker said his branch was suffering financially and couldn't afford to continue paying the bonus to staff. He was pleased that they were still getting a 10 per cent discount on their own groceries.

A Countdown spokesperson said the 10 per cent has been paid, and would continue to be paid, to any team members whom the Government had deemed to be high risk to Covid-19, including any staff who were over 70, immune-deficient and those with serious chronic illness.

"We're also continuing our increased food discount of 10 per cent for all team members.

"This bonus recognised not only the essential service our team have been providing New
Zealanders, but also the weeks before the lockdown when our supermarkets and supply chain experienced incredibly high levels of demand."

As for the bonus for remaining staff, Countdown had hired an extra 2000 staff, and put in place "a range of really strong measures to create a more controlled environment for our team, and thankfully, we've also seen demand from customers calm down".

That had helped the business get back into a "more normal and less stressful rhythm".

Also, from September, Countdown team members with 12 months or more service would all start earning the living wage of $21.15 an hour.

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Foodstuffs spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said the bonus to frontline waged workers was originally put in place to "recognise the extra demands placed on our staff during the busy four week period of alert level 4 and in recognition of the fact staff had additional pressures placed on them during this period of the lockdown".

"Foodstuffs has extended this bonus which will now be paid to employees until Monday 27 April which is the final day of alert level 4 as confirmed by Government on Monday 20 April.

"As the country moves out of alert level 4 it makes sense that wages return to normal and owners' usual business processes pick up again including undertaking employee pay reviews and rewarding their teams independently for their hard work."

The increased demand by shoppers for products had put a strain on the supply chain but suppliers, distribution and transport teams, and "everyone on the shop floor has pulled together to meet these needs".

Moving to alert level 3 was a positive step and one which allowed many businesses to reopen and more people to return back to work, she said.

"This signals a positive step in the return of New Zealand to a 'more normal' existence, but we recognise the journey is not over and protective measures including physical distancing remain critically important.

"Supporting our people remains utmost in our minds and the need to get the balance right is imperative as we prepare for a journey back to business as usual."

Countdown General Manager Corporate Affairs, Kiri Hannifin, joins Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking to explain what you can expect when shopping during the lockdown. Audio / Newstalk ZB

As a show of solidarity for supermarket workers, Williams called on New Zealanders to tell Countdown and Foodstuffs to "show some heart" as the country went into level alert 3.

"Supermarkets will continue to operate as essential services, and workers will continue to serve their communities for low wages on long hours, at a greater risk of infection than the rest of us. Nothing much will change for them, but they'll earn 10 per cent less."

It wants Kiwis to "bring a heart, draw a heart, wear a heart" when they do their normal shopping over the coming weeks.

She suggested people draw a heart on a piece of paper and attach it to their trolley as they did their shopping.

"An A4 or A3 bit of paper fits nicely onto the front of a supermarket trolley so you can communicate yours and your family's message of support for workers while calling on their bosses to show some heart and continue paying these workers fairly, now and into the future.

"This casual act of solidarity is easy to do and a meaningful way for you to show these workers that you care and recognise that they're worth a living wage."

Hamilton 4-year-old Kaea, who loves "any and all kinds of noodles" had got on board and drawn her heart to go on the family's trolley.

"She thinks it's pretty awesome that someone's around to provide them while she's stuck at home," Williams said.

She also encouraged people to post the hearts to social media with the hashtags #WorthIt and #ShowSomeHeart.

Foodstuffs has also been approached for comment.