Unite Union conference declares war on zero hour contracts


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Fast food delegates prepare a solidarity message for workers in US at Unite national conference

By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director

150 Unite Union delegates resolved to launch a campaign in the new year to end zero hour contracts in the fast food industry at their national conference December 1-2.

At their national conference Unite discussed recent cases where the existence of these type of agreements have been used against workers.

Ex-McDonald’s worker Stephanie Phillips was at work even though she had three broken ribs and a punctured lung. When the pain and discomfort got too much she asked to go home but this was refused. When a customer saw her coughing up blood and complained she was transferred to the drive through. She was only allowed to leave after 5 hours. Workers are able to be treated this way because they lack the power to assert their rights. They know that if they do speak up the managers take their revenge by cutting their hours.

Restaurant Brands which owns the KFC brand implemented a new roster last week cutting hundreds of hours from workers regular roster without consultation. Some staff have been working regular 5-6 hour shifts for many years only to have their shifts cut to three hours. Management hours have also been cut so that it will be impossible for them to run the store without themselves clocking out and working unpaid. There will be added pressure on crew to not take breaks and work unpaid as well. Again the company believes it can do this because there are no guaranteed hours for crew at KFC. Suspicion is widespread that these cost cutting measures are designed to boost profits so that the share price hits $4 and triggers a $1 million bonus for the chief executive.

Opposition party leaders including Andrew Little from Labour, Winston Peters from NZ First and Metiria Turei from the Greens spoke to the Unite conference in support of the union’s objectives.

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Action Station has also swung in behind the campaign to ban zero hour contracts.

Zero tolerance for Zero hours became the message of the conference. It finished with video in solidarity with the fast food workers in the US who are planning their biggest national strike on December 4. Unite’s message was “We did it so can you – $15 and a union!


  1. I am reminded of Simon Bridge’s pledge several months before the elections to get tough on employers exploiting foreign workers – not paying them minimum wages, illegal deductions from their pay (aka “fees”), hell – not even paying them at all sometimes (aka slavery). What has happened here? as we expected sweet f.a. Can we expect the government to have any concern for exploited NZ workers, then? Yeah right!

  2. I am reminded of Simon Bridge’s pledge several months before the elections to get tough on employers exploiting foreign workers – not paying them minimum wages, illegal deductions from their pay (aka “fees”), hell – not even paying them at all sometimes (aka slavery). What has happened here? as we expected sweet f.a. Can we expect the government to have any concern for exploited NZ workers, then? Yeah right!

    I am starting to think that a return to compulsory unionism is the only thing that is going to protect our most low-paid and vulnerable workers against the expanding exploitation of the greedy corporate right.

    Now I can sit back and wait for the right-wing trolls to start screaming hysterically.

  3. This is the most revolting story I have ever heard, I hope Stephanie is well again, I saw this story on the news and I vowed never to go to Mc Murder ever again, as for KFC it’s so revolting I don’t know how anyone can eat that shit. God how low are we going to sink making crap food from beautiful animals and treating staff like shit. Will Mc Donald’s be done for this?

  4. Mike: would you please follow this incident further up the line?

    At what point does the oppression actually kick in? Is it with the managers – though your report indicates they are also under threat.

    With the individual franchise holders?

    With an off-shore entity?

    And what is there, in NZ law, that is enabling this?

    I’m pleased to hear that three parties have stood against this. Perhaps a couple more parties could be prodded off the fence. I’m sure there are fast food franchises in the wilds of the Ohariu electorate…

    I recognise this is part of the overall ‘review of work’ by the Labour Party, and that long-term measures will be needed; however, remedial action is needed very very soon – before the surviving tax payers end up supplementing more businesses through cost of living top ups for very low paid workers. Or someone dies.

  5. Now this is the sort of crud that goes on and unscrupulous employers can get away with in a deregulated, deunionised labour market. This is PRECISELY why we need a union presence in this country – not this current hamstrung ad hoc effort – and the ability to come onsite and see just what’s going on.

    Its also why we need union award rates that cant be tampered with ,negotiated conditions as well. Same goes for a guarantee of hours – and prompt payment as well.

    More enforcement of labour laws to ensure pirates like these get hauled up before the magistrate and sending a clear message out to those who think its ok to abuse people who work for them.

    This is along the same lines why we have 29 men who died in a coal mine . Lack of union mines inspector’s and an oppertunistic management who were prepared to risk other people’s lives for the sake of overseas shareholders.

    It’s high time this garbage ended.

  6. We can expect these labour contracts as the norm with the passing of TPPT.
    The likes of Mcdonalds and KFC are just the beginning ,when big corporations arrive for business, they will have the upper hand and make the rules. It will be a case of lots of employees on zero hour contracts, and they will be treated like slaves,do as your told or else!
    WINZ will insist people get a job under these conditions, because it lowers the pretence of unemployment.
    Minimum wages if the people are lucky,and it wont be only foreign workers.
    There are lots of jobs that are part time now ,bank workers etc
    the corporations will work on the assumption that workers will be glad of anything, and be lucky to get any work at all.
    The only way people in these Mcdonalds and KFC jobs can do is organise and all walk off the job at busiest times, of course there will be others to fill the gap ,but if the message is passed on it will cause problems and the employers will think about the conditions.
    Its back to the old days, workers with no rights ,that was why Unions were formed, that’s why the government scuppered the Unions, the government prefer no rights for lower paid .The TPPP will have everything set up for an easy ride and easy take over of NZ.
    Welcome to the New World Order and the corporations who want more, more ,more.

  7. The other problem with zero hours is that employees under this have difficultly proving income, so are locked out of credit, buying a house in particular. Banks won’t lend mortgages to clients without regular hours and a ‘real’ job. They can also fall outside of the WINZ criteria, you have no regular income but can’t get get WINZ either as you have a ‘job’. Trying to apply for any additional benefit becomes difficult without knowing how much you earn week to week. I don’t mind flexibility with some jobs that are obviously casual (student working a few hours a week waitressing or cleaning) but these rules are being used now by corportations on their ‘full time’ staff. Or instead of employing 10 full time staff they are juggling 20 part timers so they feel they are less accountable. To work out this you could forensically analyze the workforce and name and shame. I would be looking at that side of things as a union – the amount of fixed hours workers in jobs that should be ‘full time’ but are actually being used ‘part time’ to get around labour laws. Then you could see the extent of the problem. On Campbell Live when they looked at the petrol workers contract it was using ‘casual’ contract terms as a general contract for all employers for pump station workers. The other issue with this, is often it is not good for employers either. It costs a lot to train and manage such a flexible workforce and their are more mistakes and worse service generally with high turnover. The reason I say that is not all employers are bad it is an insidious sign of the times that this has become common. Like the ‘living wage’ maybe there should be a ‘code of conduct’ for hours for employees so that ‘good employers’ sign up to it. That could be a transitional way to first help employees while it is all sorted out legally. Ie like the Made in NZ campaign – Employeers sign up to and can advertise they are ‘living hours’ friendly with say 80% of their employees on fixed hours and even better on a ‘living wage’.

  8. Zero hour contracts are an example of what I would call extreme right policies. This type of policy only serves to undermine workers for what in reality is little benefit for the employer, but great cost to the employee. I have said before that the job of unions is to keep the pendulum somewhere near the centre. For a fair society, unions need the strength and ability to do so.

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