Protest at same-job pay disparity

EQUAL PAY DEMANDS: Chep workers protest on the corner of Shands and Halswell Junction Rds.
EQUAL PAY DEMANDS: Chep workers protest on the corner of Shands and Halswell Junction Rds.

Workers at a Christchurch pallet plant are demanding pay parity with their Auckland counterparts.

About 20 employees took to the corner of Shands and Halswell Junction Rds in protest yesterday morning.

Chep is an international provider of pallet, container and crate-pooling services for large supply chains.

Bishopdale man Murray Johnston, 59, has worked at the Christchurch plant for 14 years and said he was on $16 an hour.

Workers doing the same job at the company's Wiri plant in Auckland were on at least a couple of dollars more, Johnston said.

"If you look at the cost of living, it is just as dear down here.

"Houses are just as dear to rent. It is not about being greedy. It is about common sense. I do not have a family, but a lot of people here do and they are really struggling," he said.

First Union southern region secretary Paul Watson said Chep tried to "explain away" the pay difference by pointing to higher costs of living in Auckland, "but this makes little sense since the rates at their Penrose plant are similar to those paid in Christchurch".

"The pay gap between the Christchurch site and the newly negotiated rates at the Wiri site averages around $2 dollars an hour. One member said just this week that their weekly rent is going up $50. Our claim for $1 per hour will not address this mess but it will help offset these rising costs," he said.

Chep New Zealand director of operations Peter Stewart said the pay gap statements made by Johnston and Watson were "incorrect", but he would not provide any other figures.

The company was in collective employment negotiations with First Union, which was acting on behalf of the workers, and had already offered a 3 per cent wage increase, Stewart said.

This was a "fair offer", based on Chep's assessment of market rates and average wages, he said.

"While we are disappointed [with today's strike action], we respect their right to do so. We value our employees and we will continue to bargain in good faith."

The Press