Protesters’ rat taunt ‘was a step too far’

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Protesters targeted two local supermarkets over a pay dispute on the weekend, but the use of giant rat to depict the owners of Nelson New World and Pak ‘n Save Richmond has been questioned.

The “community protests” were held at both supermarkets on Saturday and Sunday and was organised by members of the First Union, which represents supermarket employees.

Around 18 protesters were at New World on Saturday morning and six turned up to the Pak ‘n Save later that day. Organiser Rachel Boyack says most of the protesters were local, however only a couple were actual employees at the supermarket. She says that’s because it wasn’t an official strike, so employees couldn’t leave their workplace to join it.

The union is protesting over pay rates, which they say are less for South Island employees. “These two stores have made no attempt to bargain with the union in good faith. Instead they have played silly games with us. They say South Island workers should not be paid as much as those in the North Island because it is a different market.”

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A North Island union rep is arrested by police at Pak ‘n Save in Richmond.

Two union organisers from the North Island were arrested at both supermarkets for trespassing. They were handing out flyers attacking the owners of the stores and urging shoppers to email the owners.

Slogans had been designed for both stores, “New Wages” and “Pak ‘n Slave”.

The majority of shoppers spoken to by the Weekly say they support workers but they didn’t like the rat being used to attack store owners.

Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dot Kettle says she doesn’t understand the rat taunt.

“I think it’s a step too far and I think it’s disappointing. It seems to me a very personal and unnecessary attack on individuals. Most people would recognise that most businesses are actually run by small business owners who work incredibly hard to create employment opportunities in a sustainable way. Everybody respects the right to protest, but I would like to see us being able to do that in a mature and responsible fashion.”