Staff frustrated as management look for whistleblower - union

Countdown Dunedin South will remain closed today after rats were again found in the store...
Countdown Dunedin South will remain closed today after rats were again found in the store yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Countdown is unlikely to find the staff member who first raised the alarm about rats plaguing a South Dunedin supermarket, the union says.

Woolworths New Zealand director of stores Jason Stockill said Countdown Dunedin South would remain closed today — for the fourth day straight — after 21 rats had been caught in the store over the past week.

The supermarket at 323 Andersons Bay Rd closed at the weekend after four rats were caught at the store in just a few days.

Then, 13 rats were caught in the store when the store was closed for pest control on Saturday and Sunday, Mr Stockill said yesterday morning.

Four more rats were caught in the store yesterday, he said.

He believed the four rats caught most recently had been trapped inside the store after pest controllers found and sealed places the rodents had been using to get into the store.

In order to check whether any other rodents now trapped within the store had been caught, the store would be closed for a further 24 hours.

"We thank our customers for their patience and ongoing support.

"We continue to work alongside MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] and Rentokil, who confirm there is no sign of nesting activity inside the store.

"Our store team work hard every day to maintain our high standards for cleanliness and work closely with pest-control services to manage rodent populations that can be found in urban areas."

First Union organiser Angus Wilson said staff were frustrated.

"They’re frustrated because it reflects poorly on them.

"Also, the ones who have been raising the issues, they’ve been doing so for quite a while and feel frustrated they haven’t been listened to until it’s gone public."

Staff members told the Otago Daily Times last month rats were running rampant in the store and they feared the public could have been sold contaminated food.

Mr Wilson said he had been told store managers were looking for the person who initially contacted the newspaper.

"However, I don’t think that they’ll find that person.

"I think they’ll have gone to ground."

He could not say what repercussions they could face, but if they were a union member "we would certainly look at how we can support them in any way".

He did not foresee any job losses at the store in the short term, either, Mr Wilson said.

"I think long term, hopefully customers will see the company is doing something about the issue and that will hopefully build back up that customer confidence — because I imagine it has been shaken a wee bit."

There were concerns among staff neighbouring properties had played a big part in the present rat issue, he said.

Countdown has previously said part of its co-ordinated response included the MPI’s New Zealand Food Safety division working with the Dunedin City Council "surveying neighbouring areas".

Dunedin Gasworks Museum trust manager Glynn Babington yesterday ruled out a rat issue at the neighbouring heritage site.

Countdown’s pest control contractor, Rentokil, inspected the gasworks site and the 19th-century worker’s cottage stored on site early this year.

Then, last Saturday, the MPI completed another inspection, Mr Babington said.

"No signs of rats, at all," he said.

A council spokesman said the area inspected with New Zealand Food Safety staff was in the block between Hillside Rd and Braemar and McBride Sts.

He referred further comment to the MPI.

New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said he was unaware of any nests being discovered outside the store, "but we continue to work with Woolworths and Rentokil to determine any areas that could harbour rats".

New Zealand Food Safety was aware of a reported rodent sighting in Countdown Eastgate, in Christchurch, but had not received reports of issues at other Dunedin supermarkets, he said.

An employee, who asked not to be named, said they were not surprised by the number of rats caught at the South Dunedin store over the weekend and labelled the situation "a circus".