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Unite's Fair Pay Agreement 4 Hospo Campaign Launches

Unite today launched its Fair Pay Agreement 4 Hospo campaign at its annual conference. Union members from around the country, almost all employed in hospitality, were joined by NZCTU President Richard Wagstaff, MPs Jan Logie (Greens) and Helen White (Labour) to achieve decent pay and conditions in the troubled sector.

According to Unite National Secretary John Crocker, the scale will be massive, covering 85,000-100,000 workers in hospitality - hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, casinos, takeaways, recreation and tourism. Those workers are employed by 20-25,000 separate employers.

While the actual final claims to be negotiated will only be known after the formal consultation process has started, the main issues are well known - the same issues Unite has been working on for the past fifteen years:

  • A Living Wage start rate (currently $23.65/hour).
  • Pay increase pathways. Many hospo employees are stuck at or just above the minimum wage despite having years of experience and qualifications (such as liquor licences, food safety certs, barista training etc). Workers need access to quality, transferable training that results in increased pay - it is in their employer’s interests to make sure that happens.
  • Secure hours. Many hospo employers use zero hour contracts in all but name - “guaranteeing” 3 or 4 hours to employees who regularly work 20-40 hours. Also very common (and illegal) is to have shifts with no end times specified, but no availability allowance paid.
  • Lack of breaks. This is also illegal (break lengths and timings are specified in law) but extremely common. Unpredictable demand does means there needs to be some flexibility - but the issue here is persistent understaffing, not unexpected demand. This goes back many years - way beyond the recent staffing shortages. Most employers do not even record paid breaks.
  • Robust and independent processes for dealing with bullying and sexual harassment. This is a major issue, especially as the perpetrators are often managers or business owners. Again, having such processes is a legal requirement, but is simply non-existent for many hospo workers in reality.
  • Proper Health and Safety reporting and resolution processes. Again required by law, but too often issues and complaints are not recorded and not dealt with as needed. Understaffing is a major ongoing issue and there needs to be agreed processes for setting and monitoring safe staffing levels.
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There are many other problems, but these are persistent across the sector. Employers, unable to deny reality, try to minimise the extent, blaming a "small minority”. There is, however, excellent independent research that backs up Unite’s experience and knowledge. Voices from the Frontline by AUT is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the reality of hospo work in Aotearoa and author Dr David Williamson spoke at the launch on the objective reality of hospo work in Aotearoa.

Many of the issues identified should not be widespread as they are already prohibited under law. The reality is that without monitoring or explicit requirements to keep records they are simply ignored by many, if not most, hospo employers. Our aim is to provide hospo workers and employers with clear guides on their obligations and, crucially, tools to monitor and fix non-compliance when it happens.

The number one way issues are resolved currently is simply workers quitting and getting another job. This is reflected in turnover rates averaging 80-100% a year.

Hospo employers are pushing back saying they have had it tough over the past few years and can’t afford more change or compliance costs. The reality is their lack of compliance and minimum pay has directly caused the main problem they have at the moment - a lack of staff. They have relied upon higher unemployment, migrant workers and backpackers to fill jobs in the past. When the taps were turned off and suddenly forced to compete with other sectors, reality bit hard. None of that is going to change any time soon and interim stop-gaps (like the lower wage threshold for visa workers) will come to and end.

The industry as a whole has a very poor reputation for employment and now is the exact time to transform it in the interests of both workers and employers. While the usual and predictable resistance to any pay or working conditions improvements is on show, we know there are many hospo employers who see the bigger picture as well. There will be many advantages, especially for smaller and medium sized businesses who now struggle with the time and cost of good employment systems and struggle to attract workers as a result.

There are a few positive signals from employers. The Tourism Industry Transformation Plan , which Unite Union has been centrally involved in developing, includes a proposal for an accord which would set voluntary employment standards for businesses and drive transparency and awareness of workplace practices and standards.

Today Unite kicked off the process, with members signing forms to support the initiation of the Hospo FPA. Once the final legislation is passed the real consultation and bargaining can begin late this year and early 2023.

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