Why bother joining a union?

28 Nov

Workers protest over how Carl’s Jr sale was handled by company

By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director

This past couple of weeks Unite has had a number of graphic examples on why it can make a huge difference in you work life whether you are a union member or not.

100 cleaners jobs at SkyCity were saved when an employment authority decision stopped the company from contracting out their work. The collective agreement that Unite has with SkyCity says that the company will treat workers with decency and respect. Too often claims or promises to treat workers well are simply empty words designed to remain on paper. This time a company has been forced to comply with its promises.

Hotel cleaning staff at a major hotel have received thousands of dollars in back pay after they were discovered paying thir staff by the room and not meeting their legal obligations under the minimum wage act.

The owner of seven Carl’s Jr stores in Auckland sold them to Restaurant Brands without a thought about what would happen to the workers. After the intervention of Unite we got three weeks pay in lieu of a full four week’s notice as required in our collective agreement. In addition, after a three way discussion between the union, the new owner and the old owner of the stores all of the migrant workers with visas specific to the old owner will be able to continue to be employed. We still have some back pay issues to settle through a separate process with the old owner but everyone has a job and their service will be recognised by Restaurant Brands.

The cleaning manager at a major hotel in Auckland announced that because of the law change she didn’t have to provide breaks for staff until the end of the shift. We have individual members at the hotel and no collective agreement as yet but with a judicious bit of media attention the hotel management got the message and apologised to all staff for the “misunderstanding”.

One major fast food chain was refusing to pay any of their final pay to staff until the uniform was returned when they only had the right to deduct the uniform cost. The worker had been away and wasn’t able to return the uniform immediately and told the company that. They weren’t told that their whole pay would be withheld as a consequence. When they discovered the problem they faced an urgent financial crisis. After the union intervened they were paid immediately. That policy is under review.

Three major fast food chain had been discovered to have not paid their staff for a lieu day when they were working on a public holiday. Wendy’s sent some records through this week that appear to show they have not paid many alternative holidays for many staff. As yet they haven’t supplied a “justification” for that. McDonald’s weren’t recognising the fact that when a shift went past midnight and into a public holiday that meant the worker got the alternative holiday as well. When it was identified McDonald’s immediately moved to fix the problem. Restaurant Brands was doing the same thing but told us this week they are still “investigating”. We will stay on the case until workers get legal their entitlements.

A major security company was not paying its staff their full annual leave entitlements. It was calculating their leave based on average earnings excluding regular overtime. Evergreen International NZ has accepted a back pay claim but only going back one year to when they bought the business from Tyco International. Unfortunately the method had been used for many years longer than that and we have been told to go afterTyco for the back pay owed for previous years.

A hotel agreement signed this week got a minimum of three shifts a week rather than the previous zero hour contract.

Workers at a McDonald’s franchise were being sent on their unpaid 30 minute break within two-hours of starting work with the the paid fifteen minute breaks being rostered later. This franchisee agreed that that practise would change. At BK however the HR manager said their collective agreement with us didn’t specify when the breaks had to be taken so she wouldn’t instruct her managers to roster a paid fifteen before the unpaid 30.

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Wendy’s workers will be voting over the next week on whether to take strike action to improve their collective agreement. The company refused every claim except what was required by the movement in the minimum wage. Among the important claims are guaranteed hours after one year; a paid 15-minute break (with access to tea and coffee) like the rest of the industry gets; and safety shoes supplied by the company.

A huge step forward in getting the public the recognise the evils of what have been dubbed “zero hour contracts” was achieved through a number of very thorough Radio New Zealand reports by their economics correspondent Patrick O’Meara. A number of parties, journalists and bloggers joined the call for them to be outlawed or severely restricted. So far the major fast food companies have refused to publicly defend their own employment contracts. All this will put Unite in a stronger position when we bargain with these companies early next year

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