The minimum wage and zero hour contracts


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Rally outside a McDonald’s during the Feb 14 fast food workers conference

The government decided to increase the minimum wage by another 50 cents this year. I must admit I was expecting 25 cents so was pleasantly surprised. It will make the negotiations Unite Union has with all the fast food giants starting next week that bit easier. Most of our agreements are based on the minimum wage and we can bank the 3.5% increase whist focusing on this years priority – an end to zero hours. Our members know that whatever the minimum wage increase it can all be lost again with a reduction of just one or two hours in a members roster.

This week also say the MP’s get a similar percentage pay rise. However their increase equals $8300 a year whereas our fast food members will be getting only $500 on an average work week of 23 hours.

A few appeals to the union for help from workers I have received just this week will give a taste of the problems our members face. They relate to three different companies. I will remove the names of the companies and workers for confidentiality but their stories are not uncommon across the industry.

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Case 1:
Hi, I’m emailing cause I am concerned about my hours at work.

I’ve been with …… too long about 7 years. My first two years was all good, I had reasonable hours until my 3rd year onwards my hours started decreasing down to about 15 hours a week or just 1 day 5 hours.

Now I am only working 10-15 hours a week which is terrible and how am I suppose to cope in life with only around $160 a weeks pay.

I have been asking for more hours and shifts so many times and even filled in the availability sheet, but still I don’t get the hours I ask for.
Case 2 (notes from a phone call):
I had my name taken off the roster this week. I have NO SHIFTS AT ALL THIS WEEK.

Other times I have been given 2 hour shifts 4 days a week. I asked for more hours – but always given less hours or none at all. I have full-time availability.

The manager demands we work after we have clocked out. Or before we have clocked on.

The manager is bagging the Union to all staff saying “Union is not good”, “Wasting your money giving it to the Union because you can’t afford it or no use because they don’t help the workers.”

Case 3:
My name is ….. from the ………… store. One of the difficulties I have with the Zero hour contracts is that I can’t sustain a healthy breastfeeding routine for my baby. One of the reasons I chose breastfeeding in the first instance. Cost effective. Seeing I don’t know how much I will be paid week-week. I have brought this up with my Manager and nothing has been done. All mothers know. added stress play a big part in milk supply drops and rises from day to day. the roster changes and financial stability contribute to my stress nowadays. A manager actually made a comment along the lines of. “Well you can’t get any more supervisor shifts until you stop breastfeeding” I thought that was unfair and upsetting. I have worked at the store for 2 and a half years and recently became a supervisor. It is very hard to maintain a steady routine for my now 1year old baby. Especially not knowing what days and times I have to pump, breastfeed for her. Not to mention the shifts that I get called in for that I’m not rostered on for. I’ll admit it I have needed it some weeks due to drops in hours. And if I dare say ‘No’ I will find my hours are cut the following week. Even when I’m in the middle of breastfeeding or pumping. MOD will expect me to drop what I’m doing. As a breastfeeding spokesperson I would be kidding myself to stop. To be honest at times I have considered it to get the extra money for my kids, rent, bills etc. But I’m not willing to change my babies somewhat routine and her means of nourishment. because the company I work for wont change this ridiculous scheduling system they concocted. I know this isn’t common. But I was just wondering if anyone has had similar problems. Any feedback would help. Please let me know your thoughts.

Workers in the fast food industry have identified what has been dubbed “zero hour contracts” as the central problem they face. These are contracts that don’t guarantee any hours a week while workers are expected to work any shifts rostered within their “availability”. Manager have power to use and abuse the rostering system to reward and punish without any real means of holding them to account.

We did a survey of fast food members and 1000 participated in the online survey. This was a fantastic result and reflected their deep concern. The results have been published here and are a fascinating read. What is very clear is that workers want more hours and more secure hours.

A national fast food workers conference on February 14 determined to get rid of zero-hour contracts in the industry.

This will be a tough battle but we are determined to win guaranteed hours in this years collective agreement negotiations with the power to increase the guaranteed hours with service.

One positive side to the campaign so far is the almost universal opposition to these contracts. Campbell Live had a great report on the issue this week and we hope they will follow it up as hundreds of workers contacted after the programme with their own horror stories.

The Labour and Green Parties have both said that their MP’s are going to sponsor a bill to change the law to severely restrict the use of zero hour contracts.

The government is feeling a bit of pressure on the issue and have announced that they are doing a rethink on the issue. The fear is they will only deal with the very worst abuses and leave the big fast food and cleaning and security companies alone.

Negotiations with all the big fast food companies begin next week and will continue through to the end of March when the collective Agreements expire. We are already in dispute with Wendy’s as their agreement remains unresolved from last year. We will need public support to win. Watch this space.


  1. I couldn’t agree more – and I’m on the far right of things!

    Instead of money being socialised we are now seeing hours being socialised, and this is to the detriment of workers in all industries and not just the low paid.

    When Labour, the Greens -and National too- have spent years making NZ workplaces extremely safe to work in, we now find business people reducing the hours of work that their staff COULD do. And for what ? -the staff are on the SAME hourly rate! –
    There is no more profit in it for an employer if worker A or worker B does the shift. But for worker A there is several hundred dollars a week in it if he is allowed to CONTINUE with his work.

    Decades ago when I was an apprentice chef I worked between 60-70 hrs per week and banked a considerable amount of money, yet recently a top chef here in Brisbane came out and said that most apprentices would be lucky to now get 45hrs.Hence why most complain about lack of money.

    I’m of the opinion that current employees should be given first choice to work more hours before others are hired.There is no reason why workers can’t work in NZ workplaces for 10-12hrs, 5-6 days a week if they wish to.


  2. ‘ Working people ‘ or those in polite slavery to the Banks, for the want of a better term, should get together . As should their whanau / families and friends and regain control of their/our/my government . That’s the first thing that needs to happen . So what if we all find ourselves standing around in empty parliamentary offices wondering what next ? We’d figure something out I’m sure, as jonky and his cronies were taken off to Wellington Police Station for processing .
    We could begin by removing foreign owned banks from doing their dubious business here . Then we could renationalise and rebuild what were once OUR assets, a blow to our off-shore investors who politely steal our money, money better spent here one would think . Then wipe all mortgage debt . All of it .

    Then lets talk minimum wages .

    What is a minimum wage anyway ? It’s a small sum of money grudgingly paid to the young, unskilled or just plain unlucky . It’s a pittance . What’s more depressing is that any increase to the minimum wage is swallowed by cost increases for what were our resources by their new off-shore owners so ultimately , the scant few cents being offered is a profit increase for them .

    Any increase in the minimum wage is laughable and a logical fallacy. When there are foreign banks here making record profits and our stuff and things are owned by off-shore investors with greater buying power any increase is a pathetic attempt to quell dissent .

    Demanding an increase in the minimum wage is an arse about face way of dealing with what must be remedied . We , all of us , must regain control of our country first .

  3. A clear right wing Corporate plan to drive cheap labour back to the 17th Century again being enacted by National.

    This is similar to where young 8 to 11 yr. olds were used in the coal mines and factories for cheap labour.

    Shame on Shonkey and his extreme cancerous regime henchmen.

    As Country boy rightly says, we should round them all up as traitors of the state and hold them as responsible for modern day slavery.

    When will the MSM wake up and blow the lid off this corrupt Government as they bound to be next in line someday?

    • Cleangreen – don’t count on the MSM to publicise these dirty tactics – they are part of the swill.
      Can someone please publicise a list of who the Zero Hour Contact paying companies are – We need to Boycott them in big way. This is not the NZ way of employment.

  4. I think there needs to be minimum hours for ‘full time’ workers on contracts. Zero hours should not be used to ‘punish’ people for speaking out. Although there still needs to a little flexibility for students and ‘part time’ workers.

    What makes my blood boil is the companies that should have full time worker hours but use part time hours to control their workers and drive down wages and conditions.

    The best thing for both workers and employers is to have happy, decently paid and well treated staff who enjoy their job.

    Just an idea, Like the living wage, free range eggs, etc etc, maybe the unions could certify businesses as being zero hour free or whatever. Consumers have a lot of choice, maybe consumers will choose to shop at one supermarket/petrol station/ fast food outlet/cleaning company over another if they can provide no zero hour contracts and decent wages.

    That is probably a good way to start to change the thinking in these organisations.

  5. Why don’t we just boycott the companies that use zero hour contracts? To me it seems, and is evidenced by Harriet’s comment above, that this is an issue that cuts across party lines and appeals to the basic humanity in all of us, National Party cabinet ministers excepted. If nobody bought their ratshit burgers Mcds would soon change what they are doing.

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