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Zero Hour Myths exposed by Fast Food worker survey

22 Feb

10991395 10155175547945006 3819573757507372076 nA major survey of fast food workers in New Zealand has

exposed the reality of “Zero Hour Contracts” for workers and some of the myths used to justify them.

Over a thousand fast food union members working for the major brands in New Zealand responded to Unite Union’s online survey, with nearly 700 giving detailed information on their working hours over the previous four weeks. That is the biggest response Unite Union has ever had to a member survey.

“Unfortunately it confirms in detail what we already knew from our worksite visits” said Unite Union National Secretary Gerard Hehir.

“Most fast food workers are willing and able to work more hours on a regular basis but are simply not given the opportunity. Over half who took part actually want an increase to 35 hours or more a week. We know hours become available on regular basis as other staff leave, but the companies choose to employ new staff and allocate hours week to week rather than offer any security of income.”

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Workers rights weakened by new laws – fightback needed

3 Nov


By Mike Treen,
National Director, Unite Union

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

The government’s changes to the employment laws are designed to weaken workers bargaining power – at both the individual and collective level.

30-day rule

The old law required an employer with a collective agreement in place to employ new staff on the terms of the collective for the first 30-days. This was seen as protecting the collective from being undermined by employing new staff on inferior conditions. With only 9% of the private sector workforce in unions , only a minority or workplaces in the private sector will have collective employment agreements. Even where they exist, like in the fast food industry where Unite has half its members, we often only have a minority or workers as members because the industry is 24-7 in small sites scattered across the country with a 100% annual staff turnover and usually with hostile owners.

This is hard to do in a minimum wage industry. It has been hard to move companies off that rate as a start rate. However we have succeeded in getting some steps built into the agreement for after six months or one year. A real danger would exist if a company offered staff a start rate that was higher than the collective but without some of the service steps that would apply later. Workers would be tempted to take the higher rate and not join the union and therefore the collective.


The current legal right to a 10-minute paid break for shifts of two to 6 hours and a second plus a 30 minute unpaid break for shifts of four or more hours is being removed. The worker also loses the right to nominate that the shifts are spread evenly through their shifts. The employers obligation now is simply “provide [you] with a reasonable opportunity for rest, refreshment, and attending to personal matters” that is “appropriate for the duration of [your] work period.” When these breaks are taken is by agreement or failing that at the employers discretion. When an employer feels they can’t provide you with a break (or you agree) then they must compensate you for the loss with at least an equivalent.

Luckily nearly all the Unite Union collective employment agreements have the old legal requirements incorporated in them. In addition our agreements have a paid 15-minute break rather than the 10 minutes that had been in the law. But it has been a fact of life that it is difficult to enforce the agreements around breaks because workers are made to feel they are letting the team down if (as is often the case) the shop or workplace is understaffed. By making it a law in 2008 it gave workers more courage to assert their rights.

One small positive aspect of the new law is the assertion of the need for some sort of at least equivalent compensation if you miss your entitlement. In the past many workers will have worked through their paid breaks without compensation but now there is an obligation on the employer to at least provide equivalent paid time off. We actually had one employer argue in the employment authority that because workers were paid when working through their paid break there was no disadvantage.

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