“Even though my hours are being cut, my rent doesn’t get cut to compensate” – Why are workers kept hungry for hours?



Fast Food = Slow Pay


Lola is a manager at a major fast food chain. Last year her employer arbitrarily cut her hours from 32 hours to anywhere between 18 and 26 hours each week. “I said I can’t live off this, even though my hours are being cut, my rent doesn’t get cut to compensate, my bills don’t get cut,” Lola told me. Lola’ s inability to determine week to week what her income would be meant she ended up at a Work and Income office. “For the first time in my life, I had to get a food grant,”she said.

Lola is not the only one. Many workers are reporting they are “hungry for hours” as casual, minimal and zero hours contracts are on the increase in major retail and fast food chains.

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Workers across the country  say they are being employed on minimal or even zero hour contracts. They end up working a variety of hours, never knowing what income they will receive week to week.

Raj is a worker at a major supermarket chain. When Raj applied for a role working night shift unloading boxes he was given an 8 hour contract and told more hours would be available to him every week.

What he didn’t know was that these hours would come at a price. One morning when he was due to head home his manager asked him to work an hour extra for no pay.  Raj was not happy however he had no choice but to stay on.  “They said if you won’t work for free we will not give you extra hours next week,” said Raj. “You feel like a slave.” Raj had witnessed employees who spoke up about the exploitation receive less hours than others. His 8 hour contract had him at the whim of his manager, desperate for any extra hours he could get, whatever it took.

It’s easy to see how we are all affected by this , whether directly or indirectly. Friends and family on casualised contracts struggle to keep commitments, attend social occasions and generally participate in society . “It’s very difficult to plan anything at all on these contracts,” said Raj. “ Not even an outing with your family because you get called an hour before “We need you to come in” and if you turn it down you might not get called next time, it’s too big a risk.”

There are a number of ways to address the exploitative practices surrounding minimal hour contracts.

In Denmark and Brazil unions have campaigned for, and successfully won, legislation that gives regulations around guaranteed minimum hours of work (20+ per week). We should be pushing politicians for something similar in New Zealand and in addition legislation that further expands all workers’ right to organise .

Evident of how a well-organised workforce can address issues of zero and limited hour contracts is that of Unite! Union. As well as naming and shaming guilty employers, workers in the fast food industry in Unite! are negotiating clauses in their collective agreements that establish guaranteed minimum hours that provide a liveable income . The clauses also guarantee minimal fluctuations in hours each week to allow workers to plan around their incomes and prescribe that any additional hours will be made available to existing employees before new workers are hired.


  1. McDonalds and its mates KFC etc have never been fair employers in my view. They take every shortcut they possibly can as regards payment of their workers, and now the ultimate insult of lowering their wage bill even further.

    • Too true. I dealt with this situation back in the 1990’s when I was a student.

      Not much has changed. This is not a new situation.

  2. I worked for McD in my teens and complained that our low wages were hardly a motivation to keep us working with the company and everyone was continually job hunting for something better. Staff turnover was horrendous, I’d estimate around 90% a year. The area manager told me that if they increased our wages the cost of a burger would have to go up as well.

    I said to him, so we’re subsidising cheap burgers for the public?

    He had no answer to that.

    (I moved on a few months later.)

    • Every time a worker receives low pay …every time that worker works for a freebee- against their will for that business…they provide a subsidy for that business.

      Free market – whereby a business that isn’t efficient should cease to exist?

      More like corporate bludgers , to be honest.

      Always strikes me as mildy amusing that the same characters running these abusive company s are usually the same characters who believe whole heartedly in the neo liberal free market . They love the destruction of unions, they believe passionately in individual bargaining…why?

      Because they know they can bully individuals with impunity.

      If you run a business that pays minimum wages, …ask yourself…’Am I just a greedy bastard?’…. or ‘Am I such a piss poor executive and my business isn’t that successful therefore I cant afford to pay a better wage to my worker ?’

      If it is indeed the latter…then consider this :the workers which you deliberately underpay and manipulate are subsidizing you . You are what we would call a ‘corporate bludger’.

      If therefore you fall into the latter camp,.. you are also a hypocrite…because not only are you a false neo liberal…whereby if your business isn’t efficient and is failing it should naturally cease to exist…get out and let a better person take over.

      So take your pick , A) a greedy bastard B) corporate bludger , or C) hypocrite.

      The remedy ?…. stop being a thief and pay workers a realistic , proper wage…and stop being a bloody bludger.

      And by the way….Ive been on both sides of the fence , both worker and self employed with 6 workers….but I never was any of the above.

      • “So take your pick , A) a greedy bastard B) corporate bludger , or C) hypocrite.”

        LOL. I worked with one from A. Dude goes on holiday, cruise in the Mediterranean with wife and mates. Comes back, first thing, as he goes into the factory where EVERYONE was paid minimum wage (I know because I did payroll) “you lazy bastards! you’re all a bunch of f***ing useless bastards” and similar very colourful language.

        I left a few days later.

        Those poor people who worked in his factory were so ground down by his nastiness. Dude drove a Ferarri, lived in a mansion, and paid his staff minimum wage.

      • Yes Wild Katipo, sometimes the free market can be frustrating…but is it truly free in the presence of government legislation surrounding a minimum wage?

        The free market is not free. At least not while we have minimum wage legislation. The ONLY reason a boss can get away with paying so little in these circumstances is that he knows that there is a long line of people waiting to take the place of a disgruntled worker. The common thread here is that these jobs are all low (or no) skill positions, and unfortunately it is the low skill labourers who struggle the most in any job market. The only way for this situation to truly stop is for the boss to wake up one morning and realise that the long line of workers that he is so willing to exploit has shown their frustration by leaving the industry and there is no-one to take their place, because you can be bloody sure that these bosses will never do the job themselves, no matter what. They consider themselves way above that!

        I am like you. I prefer to pay my staff more and in doing so I enjoy the commitment, the contentment, the long service, the happy work environment and the relative hassle free productivity of our workplace.

        Staff turnover annoys me. I get frustrated by the hassle and HUGE cost of the recruitment process. I hate the time away from productive work to interview people and follow up references, to chase up the ‘no shows’, to interview the dreamers, to listen to smart Alec’s lying their arses off in an interview. I am frustrated by the retraining of new staff and the time it takes them to get up to speed.

        Now don’t get me wrong, almost all of this is not the fault of the staff, it is just due process. It costs a lot of money and lost productivity to rehire. I shudder at the thought of how much it must cost these bosses to hire and rehire. Staff retention is a big thing to me. I get as much security out of it as my staff do.

        But in the cold light of day, a burger (or whatever) is only worth what the customer is willing to pay. The boss may be justifying the low wages in his own mind by making the most of low skill desperate workers, but the high staff turnover, low morale, high mistake rate and high cost of re-recruitment is, I have no doubt, costing his staff a pay rise of at least $3-$5 an hour in lost productivity. And I hope those bosses don’t think we notice. We see the sour faces, the ‘don’t care’ attitude and the low self esteem of these people.

        My advice, stick with it, gain some provable, marketable skills and work your way up to a position of influence and prove the bastards wrong!

  3. And the problem with not knowing when you are going to work is that you can’t take on a second job to make up for the low pay from reduced hours … because you may suddenly get increased hours the next.

    In the USA, MacDonalds made a budget for their workers based on their income but only got it to balance by the workers taking on a second job (and leaving out groceries, childcare costs and petrol).


  4. I’m currently in the Aged Care Sector and I believe this is a major strategy towards workers. I work 6 day weeks, with double shifts and struggle to have 30 hours per week. What’s more frustrating that I have returned to the Aged Care due the cuts to Post Grad education funding. After I reach 30 hours per week, my Student Loan repayment rate increases. Therefore my $15 per hour only is around $10 per hour in the hand.

  5. got any factual evidence apart from a couple of racial predjudices about the names of peoplle employed at these institutions?

    Also, i’ve never ever heard of a manager having their hours cut. it doesn’t make sense from such slickley managed operations as major fast food chains. this smells strongly like make believe

  6. There is only one way to stop this abuse of minimal wage and minimal contracts – especially with our young workers.

    You must make sure you join the revolution FOR NZ, and go to the polling booths on September 20th, and vote for the change!

    So what if you have to leave your ‘post’ for however long it takes you to go and cast your vote – just do it, and encourage all your friends to do the same.

    If we don’t get rid of this disgusting National govt (the ones who made your abuse possible), then everything will only get worse.

    Take your pick: Labour Greens or IMP. Your vote is very valuable – use it as a chance to change NZ back to a good place.

    Please vote!


    • I am sorry Mistery, but that is not the answer in my opinion.

      By all means vote, and the right of leaving your post to vote is protected by employment law.

      The answer is education and commitment. I said education, not necessarily a university degree. Aspire to be better than a labourer or service worker. That is a good place to start, I am sure we have all flipped burgers and swept floors to get a step up. But at the end of the day, a boss is looking for commitment, for leadership skills, for a future manager. I know I am! Say hello to the boss when you see them, demonstrate an interest in the job as a career, that you have a stable and mostly sober lifestyle and that you can be trusted, and the sky’s the limit!

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