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Letter to Minister on abuse of breaks law

21 Nov

Michael Woodhouse
Minister of Labour
Parliament Buildings

20 November 2014

Dear Mr Woodhouse,

Yesterday I received a concerning email from one of our union members.

It stated that:

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

This is a direct consequence of the recently passed rest breaks legislation.

You have stated through the media that these law changes were aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights. You said that you saw it applying in situations such as a sole operator at a petrol-station, sole-charge air traffic controllers at small airports, or nurses on a night shift.

You also said that employees and employers would be able to negotiate their rest breaks.

“I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome.”

This law has not even come into effect yet and already this legislation has been used as an excuse to take advantage of workers at a hotel in Auckland. These workers are not sole-charge. This is not a small employer. This is a well-known nationwide brand. These workers do an incredibly physical job all day involving heaving lifting, bending, pushing and pulling. Many of these workers are on work visas, many do not speak English as a first language.

These workers were not given the chance to negotiate their breaks. They were simply told during a morning staff briefing that their breaks were changing from now on and they were to work almost an entire shift without a rest break. Even if they were able to negotiate their breaks how could they do this successfully given that they are already in a vulnerable position, being that many are migrant workers?

This is the direct consequence of the law change you supported. This is the first example. We expect there will be many, many more.

I have some questions for you Minister.

a) Is this the actual intended effect for this legislation, do you think this is fair and reasonable?

b) Do you think this is reasonable in terms of an employers’ responsibility regarding the health and safety of these workers?

c) How do you suggest workers go about negotiating their tea breaks with their employer, especially non-union workers?

d) Do you have any further advice for these workers?

Mr Woodhouse, I am eager to discuss the effects of this law change with you further. Would you be willing to meet with us and a delegation of our union members?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Shanna Reeder
Hotels Organiser
Unite Union
029 44 55 703

Employer caught abusing new ‘teabreaks law’ to exploit workers

20 Nov

Unite Union hotel workers picket 2007

The government passed the controversial ‘teabreaks’ legislation only a few weeks ago and already Unite Union has caught an employer using this law as an excuse for ill-treating their staff.

Yesterday a union member, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, emailed Hotel Organiser Shanna Reeder.

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

The new law actually will only come into effect in March 2015, however it seems this misinformed employer has jumped at the opportunity to stop workers having their breaks.

Previously, National Party MP and current Minister of Labour Michael Woodhouse has said the move was aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights. “I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome.”

Unite Organiser Shanna Reeder says “This is clearly the outcome of this unfair anti-worker legislation. The Minister has been proven wrong on one occasion already and we know there will be many more instances of this abuse. He says employees can just go to the boss and negotiate things. This example clearly shows that there is no intention of negotiation from the employer. This is a blanket rule that was rolled out and announced to all staff. I’ll be writing to the Minister to advise him of this case and further cases that are reported to us that show that this piece of legislation is failing workers and stripping them of their dignity and rights.”

Unite Union will also be writing to the employer involved to inform them that they have breached current employment law and that they are expected to abide by current legislation at all times. If the employer does not rectify this immediately we will re-consult with the workers involved to determine what action they prefer in order to get a fair resolution.

Hotel chain agrees to guaranteed hours of work

17 Sep

Unite Union members at an Accor hotel getting ready to vote in this week’s election

Guaranteed hours of work is the single most important issue facing Unite members employed in the service sector. Unite has been working hard and investing a lot of time to try and get more secure hours for workers in all the industries that we represent workers in. Unite is pleased to inform members that we have made a breakthrough around securing minimum hours of work for hotel workers this month.

In the past hotel workers enjoyed full time employment. However, in recent years there has been a major shift towards part-time and casual work in the industry.This has been of significant concern to our members as even if a reasonable pay increase is secured it does not go far where there is no certainty of being rostered work for the week.

Accor (NZ largest hotel company) has made a significant move for the hotel industry by offering to guarantee most employees a minimum 25 hours work per week after one years service. Unite welcomes this change which is a major shift in the hotel industry from no guarantee to providing their employees with minimum hours per week.

Hotels Organiser Shanna Reeder says “This guarantee of hours will allow these workers to give banks some assurance of their financial stability when applying for a car loan or a credit card, and landlords may feel more comfortable taking these workers on as tenants. These simple things that most people take for granted are hard to get for a worker who has no guarantee of work from week to week.”

Research done by Accor showed that most union members were already working an average of 25 hours per week and they were prepared to acknowledge this step to offer certainty to employees.

Poverty pay isn’t inevitable. Look to the hotel cleaners of New York

10 Sep

By Aditya Chakrabortty

The Guardian, Monday 8 September 2014

In the US, the workers are organised. In Britain, even within the same hotel chain, earnings are lower and job insecurity higher

‘In London between 2% and 4% of all hotel workers are in a trade union. About 70% of New York City staff are unionised.’

Back to school time, so let’s start with a quick quiz. The minimum wage in Britain is £6.31 an hour, while in New York it’s $8 an hour, or £4.93. So who do you think’s better paid: a hotel cleaner in London or one in Manhattan? You at the back: stop Googling. At the heart of this question lies one of the most important issues in economics and politics today – who gets paid what, and how. And the answer: New York City wins.

A cleaner on London’s Park Lane will almost certainly be on or around the minimum wage, say £6.31 for each hour. Her counterpart (because, let’s face it, it’s almost always women doing this physically punishing work) on New York’s Park Avenue is likely to be on nearly three times as much: an agreed hourly rate of $28.50, or £17.66.

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Hotel ordered to pay $80,000 in outstanding wages

22 Jul

An Auckland hotel has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay nearly $80,000 in outstanding wages to two employees.

Filipino couple Abraham and Nancy Agustin were employed at Auckland Harbour Oaks, and alleged the hotel had underpaid them and withheld part of their salaries.

The employers maintained their payment regime is correct but failed to provide any wage and time records to the authority, as required by law.

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Cafe chef awarded $50,000 for unfair dismissal

21 Jul

A former chef at an Auckland cafe has been awarded more than $50,000 in unpaid wages and compensation for unjustified dismissal.

The Employment Relations Authority was told by Lin Zhang that she had been employed by Tan Pacific at its cafe business in Auckland after travelling to New Zealand on a student visa.

Tan Pacific failed to show up for any hearings or respond to allegations throughout the authority’s investigation.

Ms Zhang told the ERA as evidence that her student visa was set to expire when she saw a job for a full time chef at BB’s Cafe advertised.

Ms Zhang said during the course of the interview she told her employer William Tan her visa was about to expire.

She said Mr Tan told her he would offer her the job and help with her visa application if she paid him $23,000 as a bond, to ensure she would remain working for him for two years.

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Getting paid for hours actually worked!

24 Jun

Unite Union is still coming across cases where workers are cheated out of hours they have actually worked – even at big companies.

During a routine visit earlier this year, Hotels Organiser Shanna Reeder discovered a Rotorua hotel from a major chain was paying employees incorrectly due to their clocking in and out times being altered.

It is not clear how this was occurring or who was making the alterations, however what was clear was that some of our members were being short-changed for as far back as the last 12 months. She had lost on average one hour a week.

The union analysed 12 months worth of time sheets for one member and discovered the pattern, enquiries were made with the Human Resources department of the hotel and it was acknowledged that this had occurred for other members also.

The hotel assured the union it was a practise isolated to one hotel, put a stop to the practise immediately, agreed to write to each of the members involved to let them know they were owed wages and to pay the outstanding amounts. The member who identified the issue was owed $700 herself.

Members at this hotel now report that they are being paid accurately for all hours worked.

Heartland Hotel workers celebrate first Collective Agreement

29 May

By Shanna Reeder, Hotels organiser

Unite Union members at Heartland Hotel are celebrating after ratifying their first ever Collective Agreement.

Unite Union has been slowly building membership at this hotel since late 2011 when it was under the Management of the Bella Vista Hotel group.

An increase in membership during 2013 coincided nicely with a re-branding and a change in management with the hotel joining the Scenic Circle Hotel Group.

Negotiations were initiated in November 2013, and the members ratified an offer from the company on 13 May.

Needless to say, after many years with no pay rise other than the minimum wage increase the Unite Union members at Heartland Hotel are now thrilled to have their years of service and loyalty recognised, with the Collective Agreement also providing for a further pay increase later in the year.

Mike Treen speaks to hotel workers in San Fransisco

19 May

Unite Union National Director Mike Treen was invited to speak to a hotel workers delegates training day in San Fransisico on May 16 by Unite’s sister union in the US called UNITE HERE.

The 150 delegates present were half the hotel delegates who were having training that week with the the other half having attended the day before. They represented 12,000 hotel workers in the area.

UNITE HERE is very strong in California and plays an important role in the broader labour movement in the state.

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