A Unite Union protester on Queen St this afternoon protesting migrant working conditions at Burger King NZ
By Adam Hollingworth
Union members and their supporters occupied three Burger King stores on Queen St in protest at their treatment of immigrant workers.
The move came as another union launched a network to improve the conditions of migrant workers.
At first it looked as though Burger King would prevent the Unite Union from occupying their Aotea Square, Queen St restaurant.
But what was prevented at lunchtime could not be stopped later as union members briefly occupied three outlets.
The union has taken cases to the Employment Relations Authority, saying Burger King is exploiting and abusing what it says is mainly a migrant work force that’s too scared to speak out.
“It is because the company has told their managers to get them to quit their union because if they did speak to the union their visa wouldn’t be extended and then they’d have to go back to their homeland,” says Jerry Prakash of Unite Union.
Burger King denies this, saying it doesn’t threaten its workers and that they are free to join unions.
Burger king says it’s precluded from commenting on issues before the Employment Relations Authority, except to say that these cases do not refer to abuse or exploitation. Burger king says it’s a responsible employer which respects its staff and their culture.
The move comes as another union, FIRST, launched a network to protect exploited migrants.
“More and more we’re seeing basically what you could call rackets being established to employ migrant workers and simply to exploit them in New Zealand,” says FIRST Union’s general secretary Robert Reid.
But one employment law expert says unions can do little for the migrant workers in small businesses.
“If this union can do it I’d be very, very surprised because the resources needed to call on every single small employer and defend and take a case with every small employer,” says employment law expert Max White. “They won’t have the dollars in the bank to be able to do that.”
Mr Whitehead believes the number of migrant workers being exploited all across New Zealand could be in the hundreds of thousands.