Zero hour contracts debate continues

contract, sign, signature, lease, dealIncreasingly the retail workforce in New Zealand is becoming casualised, inciting enough reaction from kiwis, Closing the Gaps, and other organisations to elicit a response from government, the retail industry and fast food giants like McDonald’s.

In addition to workers being on zero hour contracts, many are on low hour contracts of only five to 10 permanent hours per week, with large fluctuations in their weekly rosters and earnings. These unstable hours cause anxiety and high staff turnover, while employers have to continually train new workers.

In the face of the flare up McDonald’s and the Unite Union will meet next week in a bid to reach an agreement on ending zero hour contracts.

The fast food giant and the union have agreed to a mediated meeting on Tuesday, saying they’re hopeful of a resolution.

Talks broke down ahead of a strike last week, when union members who work at McDonald’s and their supporters picketed outside restaurants.

The two sides have expressed their commitment to ending zero hour contracts but are deadlocked over whether the workers’ guaranteed minimum hours should be based on the time they have actually spent on the job, rather than on their rostered hours.

Rallies, organised by Unite Action, are also taking place outside Wendy’s outlets in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and other centres, effectively constituting an  international day of strike action by fast food workers. To date Wendy’s has resisted ending zero hour contracts.

The Unite Union has so far had success with Burger King and Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Carl’s Jr.

Advocacy group, Closing the Gaps, which was the name given to an official New Zealand government policy of assisting socially disadvantaged ethnic groups through specially targeted social programs, is watching developments closely and keeping government and retail companies on their toes.

“While we commend Mr Woodhouse for looking to eradicate the harshest elements of these contracts, we would prefer that such employment options were banned altogether,” said spokesperson Peter Malcolm.

“Employers and their champions often talk about the need for flexibility, but that doesn’t work when flexibility is a one-way street. What about workers? They should have the right to flexibility too. They should be able to take work offered elsewhere and refuse shifts without penalty but that is not the reality.

“Not knowing how many hours you will be working week to week makes it near impossible to budget or plan for childcare, and there’s no holiday pay or sick leave.

“The social consequences of insecure employment need to be recognised alongside the economic impact. These contracts make life incredibly stressful for workers who are often afraid to turn down work even when it’s inconvenient because it may jeopardise future hours,” Malcom said.

“Every October New Zealanders celebrate the achievement of the eight hour working day on Labour Day, but that’s not very relevant to many kiwis now. The idea of eight hours’ work, rest and play has been swallowed by the pursuit of profit, and when all the power lies with the employer ordinary New Zealanders suffer.

“Eradicating zero hour contracts would be a step in the right direction towards a more egalitarian New Zealand that offers quality of life to all its citizens.”


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