Listed retailer Noni B Group has hit back at the industry union for making “unsubstantiated” claims of unsafe practices and breaches of workplace laws. But the union is standing by its claims.
On Sunday (24 March), the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) — the union responsible for retail, fast food and warehousing workers — issued a press statement in which it claimed to have received “numerous” complaints from Noni B staff of unsafe practices, understaffing and wage cuts.
But Noni B on Tuesday (26 March) issued a statement to the ASX denying the claims, suggesting that they were made “as part of the union’s campaign against Noni B Group’s proposed Enterprise Agreement”.
“Noni B Group believes that the SDA’s campaign is not in the best interests of its members and perhaps based on an incomplete understanding of the facts,” it said, stating that the agreement has been overwhelmingly approved by relevant employees, with 81 per cent support.
The retailer went on to state that it “is very proud of its safety record and achievements in promoting the welfare and wellbeing of its team members”.
“It is deeply concerning and indeed disappointing to the Group that the SDA would take this course of action, publicising unsubstantiated safety concerns in an attempt to coerce the company to change a widely supported Enterprise Agreement,” Noni B said in the statement.
“The SDA is continuing to make misleading statements to the media regarding unilateral roster reductions and forced signed contracts. This is despite Noni B Group communicating clearly with the SDA on these matters.”
The company also put the spotlight back onto the SDA, stating that “despite Noni B Group’s willingness to meet with the SDA to discuss its concerns, particularly related to safety, disappointingly, the SDA has been unwilling to meet to discuss these issues”.
“If the SDA is aware of any safety issues that it has not raised with the Group, the Group remains ready and willing to meet with SDA representatives to understand and, if appropriate, clarify or address them,” it said.
“Noni B Group is proud of its ability to turn around underperforming retailers and transform them into long-term sustainable businesses for all team members, customers and shareholders. Following the acquisition of the assets of the loss-making Specialty Fashion Group brands, 2019 is a year of transformation for Noni B Group.
“The Group is pleased with progress to date and, as always, is seeking to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to maintain its success.”
It added: “Noni B Group emphasises again that the proposed Enterprise Agreement was voted on by 3,960 team members, with the vast majority (81 per cent) approving it. The Group and its team members see no reason why this Enterprise Agreement should not be approved by the Fair Work Commission.
“As part of this agreement, Noni B Group is very proud to have offered paid domestic and family violence leave and paid grandparental leave. The Group is disappointed that the SDA appears to be working to stand in the way of its team members receiving above-award pay and enhanced leave entitlements. It would welcome a cooperative discussion with the union to ensure the best outcome in the context of the full facts.”
SDA stands by criticisms
Approached to comment on Noni B’s response to its accusations, a spokesperson for the SDA said the union stands by its claims, and insisted the retailer's assertions were incorrect.
“The SDA stands by all claims it has made in regard to the work practices of Noni B,” the spokesperson told My Business.
“Noni B claims that the SDA has not previously raised safety issues with the [company] are incorrect. The SDA first contacted Millers (a Noni B Group company) on 30 November 2018 to raise safety issues.
“The SDA then raised these issues with the Noni B Group directly on 5 December 2018 and on multiple times since. Some examples include:
- 6 December, 2018 – A telephone conversation between the SDA and Noni B.
- 28 February 2019 – SDA meeting request to discuss safety issues with Noni B.
- 8 March 2019 – SDA provides comprehensive document of safety concerns to Noni B via email.
- 18 March 2019 – SDA issues right of entry notice to Noni B to investigate safety concerns.
- 20 March 2019 – SDA makes follow up request to Noni B to respond to issues conveyed on 8 March.”
Copies of some of these email exchanges between the SDA and Noni B raising employee concerns were provided to My Business.
The spokesperson concluded: “The SDA has never refused to meet Noni B to discuss these issues, and in fact is scheduled to meet with the company tomorrow, 27 March 2019.”
An anonymous comment to the original My Business story also suggested that the claims, such as staff being unable to take toilet breaks and “forced to lift heavy boxes and work up ladders in an unsafe manner”, were accurate.
“It’s all true. Luckily, where I am, we’ve never had an issue with toilet breaks. The ladder problem has existed for years,” the commenter said.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.