Complaints pour into union from low paid staff alleging more big NZ retailers are forcing them to work unpaid overtime

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A huge influx of complaints to unions from Kiwi retail workers claiming they regularly performed unpaid overtime has landed a hoard of new high-profile businesses under scrutiny.

Hannahs and Briscoes.

Source: RNZ rnz.co.nz

An online survey from FIRST Union has received 1500 responses from retail workers over the last 48 hours - 30 per cent of which claim they have been required by their employer to work without pay - whether it be for a meeting, or end of shift tasks.

The union says it contacted several major brands they are investigating worker complaints about, including: The Warehouse, Briscoes, Countdown, Cotton On, Rebel Sports and Farmers.

The online survey from FIRST Union comes in the wake of a court ruling last week forcing Smiths City to back pay 15 years of unpaid morning meetings the retail workers had to attend.

And yesterday, footwear chain Hannahs admitted staff aren't paid for overtime after stores close, while Briscoes' boss doesn't know how many of his employees historically haven't been paid for the last 15 minutes of their shifts each day.

FIRST Union, who is gathering the complaints, says they are continuing to come in both in the online survey and through their 0800 number.

They say the complaints are coming in from union and non-union members in retail who allege their respective companies have been expecting, and in some instances asking verbally and in writing, employees to either stay back and work late for tasks such as cashing up or tidying up the shop, or for work-related meetings for the purposes of customer and sales training.

The complaints made to First Union - in addition to Briscoes, Hannahs and Smiths City - have also been made against other big Kiwi retailers.

FIRST Union says they have been in contact with all new retail businesses who have had complaints filed against them. 

Countdown has confirmed to 1 NEWS they were contacted by FIRST Union this morning, however Countdown say it was only to inform them a survey across a number of retail employers including Countdown had been undertaken.

"No specific complaints as to our business were provided in their note to us so we are unable to take any immediate action to looking in to any concerns," a Countdown spokesperson said.

However, the Foodstuffs cooperative that owns Pak'nSave denied they had been contacted by FIRST Union, and media spokesperson for the company Antoinette Laird reaffirmed it was their "practice is to pay staff from when they clock in until when they clock out".

The Warehouse said they are not aware of instances of staff working unpaid hours.

"We have asked the Union for details regarding the allegations being made. If our team members do have concerns and raise them with us we will investigate," Warehouse Group PM Manager Sarah Leaning said.

Cotton Group New Zealand country manager Kerry Ashford said they are now undertaking a full enquiry into their workplace policies after being contacted by FIRST Union.

"Upon being made aware of the concerns about workplace hours, a full enquiry has been launched to ensure our workplace policies are being adhered to," Ms Ashford said.

1 NEWS is also attempting to contact other businesses on First Union's list, businesses which 1 NEWS cannot yet name.

Retail, Finance and Commerce Secretary Tali Williams says the companies involved vary drastically in how widespread the problem is within their company.

"For some, it's simply a rogue issue with one supervisor or manager not being aware that they are breaking the law, for others it's a systemic issue throughout company stores nationally," Ms Williams said.

"We will work with companies to ensure employees are not asked to work without pay."

Ms Williams says companies who welcome this support from FIRST Union will see no further action, but those who don't may face legal disputes.

"Those who do not comply with the law may face legal action from our members who feel they have been short-changed," she said.

"If someone is on minimum wage it effectively means they're not only being paid below the minimum wage, but are missing out on around $800 a year, so this is a big issue for these workers."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden also confirmed they had received a 15 per cent increase in call volume since the since the court ruling on Smiths City last week.

"We will be taking the complaints which come to us in the coming days and talking to industry associations and large employers to get them to fix these practices, and where applicable, to pay any arrears owed," Mr Lumsden said.

"The Labour Inspectorate has come across these issues in the past – and it's been for a range of activities, including cleaning equipment after closing the shop, sales meetings before opening, shift hand overs, or health and safety inductions."

1 NEWS contacted many of the companies today and of those who got back emphasised that staff are paid for all their time and if system errors are found, workers will be reimbursed.

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