Toil and Trouble


When  Smith City was ordered to back pay the workers it had been ripping off for 6 years for all unpaid staff meetings, it didn’t take three witches or a crystal ball to know that the flood gates would open. They have. At First Union along with over 1500 people responding to a survey, the call centre and organisers are all being contacted with people wanting to lament all the unpaid hours or the time off never taken in lieu. As the National Organiser for The Warehouse and Cotton On I have received more than my share.

The list of employers named and shamed is growing daily. It seems it is a rare employer that does not try and squeeze as much extra time out of the employees as possible. Our naughty list includes Cotton On, The Warehouse Group ( all brands) Whitchoulls, Hannahs.Glassons and a cast of many more household names. What is new is the workers finally speaking out. It is a revolt of the retail masses and it is both overdue and welcome.

When you work in retail  there are 100 different ways an unscrupulous employer can take advantage of you. What seems to puzzle people is why employees continue to do the hours. It is the discourse that pervades the Stuff comments section.

“Why don’t they just find another job?’  asks SelfmadeKiwiLickedRoadCleanAndHardenUp

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My immediate response is “Because they can’t arsehole,” but then I sound as puerile as AnonOldGuyWhoIsntRaisingKidsOnHisOwn

The truth is about the invisible spell that is cast when one person holds all the power over another other.

Most of the complaints I have received by Facebook messenger late in the evening are from the young workers in the fast fashion mall stores. They don’t know their rights, even when they do they are at the mercy of a precarious contract. For example the Cotton On Group, which includes Cotton On Body, Cotton On, Cotton Kids, Typo, Ruby and Supre are all employed on a 3 hour contract. That’s it. Only 3 permanent hours. So if you are a permanent part time worker, who aspires to more security than $50 before tax, the last thing you are going to do is complain. Complaining won’t get you more shifts.

The companies have pretty much passed the buck down from their highly paid padded chairs to middle management. They are blaming individual rogue store managers who aren’t following process. Let me add some context about ‘management’. Cotton On the store managers might just be a worker that survived a season as a Christmas casual, was lucky enough to get kept on as a 3 hour permanent part time, after two years was called a senior part time ( still on 3 hours) and then promised their firstborn in order to get a promotion to assistant store manager or store manager. The average age of the store managers is well under 30. By this stage there have been a lot of unpaid hours.

For the company to blame store managers is ridiculous. A store manager messaged last night saying they were feeling targeted. They then went on to explain that there used to be half an hour to close, but then it was reduced to 15 mins and that the number of staff in each store had been reduced and finally, the regional mangers wouldn’t approve the overtime entered on the time sheets and it would disappear to meet budget. As if by magic.

The company right now will probably say ‘Aha! Rogue regional managers.”

Do I have to do this over? Do I have to point out that a regional manager is just a store manager that having survived 3 culls, managed to make the jump up another rung. All of this is dictated by one thing. Profit. The hours allotted to a store are dictated by turnover. It has nothing to do with the ability of the team to take a break or finish the work. As one store manager said last night ‘ I was always taught that staying late was time management issue, not a pay issue.’

So in answer to the question of why don’t they chuck it in and leave, what would be the point if all the chains are behaving the same way? None of this is new to First Union. What is new is the chance for a collective of workers to complain simultaneously, be heard and hopefully with the combined incantation of many voices, we can cast a spell for change.


  1. To say nothing of the knock on from the chain stores screwing workers and lowering the bar for all retail workers pay and conditions in kiwi small businesses too.

    We need strong unionism back, it’s painfully obvious how far in to poverty the pendulum has swung for workers in this country.

  2. Hell I was thinking about all the bloody unpaid work I have done in various jobs over the last 40 years or so.
    If I got paid for all of it right now I could probably pay off my mortgage and retire tomorrow.
    Strange that in the old days of compulsory unionism no-one apparently thought about this issue which seems obvious now.
    I bet there isn’t a worker in New Zealand, or even the world for that matter who hasn’t done some unpaid work at some time for their employer because they felt it was just part of the work ethic.
    If there was a National government in power now you can bet your boots there would be legislation through parliament passed under urgency before you could “Jack Robinson” to let employers off the hook from any historical or retrospective claims.
    As the momentum grows the Chambers of Commerce, Business Associations and rich prick think tanks will be putting pressure on Labour to do just that.
    We will see if Labour holds firm or caves under pressure.

      • Indeed. As was, and likely still is, roger douglas. An alan gibb protege who =’d $46 million in 1980’s then $200 million in the late 1990’s after deals were done to sell off YOUR stuff and things. A charming little fellow who argues for zero government and zero public health system AFTER he and his mates pilladged our assets and cash.
        See? That’s what we’re up against. A well resoursed, well established twisting nest of $nake$.

        Know. Your.Enemy.

        The voice of a criminal?

        One of New Zealand wealthiest – and most outspoken – businessmen, Gibbs is known to most as a merchant banker who made his fortune after the economic reforms of the 1980s, and went on to fund the ACT Party.

        But apart from his fortune, his forays into politics, and his patronage of the arts, Gibbs is also a life-long car enthusiast – and someone whose foiled attempts to grow a car manufacturing business in New Zealand sparked a life-long belief in free markets.

  3. Re unpaid work. I was a truck driver once. It was all blokie-blokie sweet-as, as we worked our arses off six days a week for $8.90 an hour. (Those on an hourly rate did get OT.)
    I drove a tractor unit pulling 40 ton loads for $8.90 an hour. That was nearly thirty years ago I admit but still.
    I noticed that we worked through our, legally entitled to, ten minute tea breaks. The BOSS argued we could drink tea on the move. That’s why cup holders. I argued that for the nine workers at our depot, that came to 180 person minutes per day he was getting out of us for free. That’s three working hours a day in total he got for free.
    That led to a spirited debate about bullshit.
    That was also the dawn of neoliberalism and the parasitising of our country by the Mont Pelerin members and their associates.
    In order to fight effectively, one must know one’s enemies. Just sayin’.

  4. Since these businesses think it’s fine to expect their workers to turn up for unpaid “voluntary” meetings, perhaps the chairmen and company directors could start attending board meetings for nothing too. I have a feeling they won’t though.

  5. Scratch the surface and there’s a bad employer story. Which is the new #metoo movement so if you’re after a justice platform there it is. Anyone who harnesses it

  6. Well, the problem seems to be the government subsiding rents, wages, childcare, training, equipment, etc – so the elderly and couples with children can just afford to live on current wage offerings ..

    As for single workers like myself, we are stuck with low wages and receive NO subsidies. If we choose to not take low wages, employers will simply continue scamming migrants (neo-slaves) to do the work.

    So single income people with no kinds (SINK’s) are forced into poverty and because we are the real tax payers, (receiving NO subsidies) paying for everyone else, the situation is bleak.

    What’s the best deal for a single person:
    1. Work full time to not be able to make ends meet?
    2. Trade employment for the full array benefits and entitlements?
    3. Embrace the brain-drain, jump on the tin canary to Oz – earn $25 per hour packing shelves at a supermarket AND enjoy better quality housing, $1.30 petrol, half price power, etc

    The brain-drain is coming back baby! NZ is for the rich and their migrant neo-slaves.

    I’m getting out! I want the world know, NZ is a hell-hole. lol

    • “Trade employment for the full array benefits and entitlements”

      Come back and tell the rest of us which WINZ office actually does that without giving you a hefty belt of shaming, disparagement, and sheer mucking about for weeks and we’ll follow you down the road to Shangri-la.

      All governments do it: paying for the juveniles-soon-to-be-cannon fodder – or the current version of that cynicism. It’s always been stupid.

      And governments have always taken the single folk for granted on the grounds that we’re somehow more ‘mobile’. Like young possums kicked out to roam.

      Personally, I’d prefer the end to the WFF and other bribes. Make employers pay fair. Ensure that utilities keep their wretched ‘price hikes’ at a level that even the poorest can afford.

      And the pigs are fed and ready to fly. 🙁

  7. Could it be the fastest race to the bottom economics model we and other “Western Nations” worship is into the home straight?

    Is this the bellwether and symptom of a broken system imploding?

    First is maximum return for minimum input for shareholders, and the fewer shareholders the better. The Capitalist foundation principal.

    So for starters pay people, most people, the bare minimum you can get away with.

    Trouble with that is they then can’t afford to spend, not unless it’s for survival (housing, food, light) and even then that can be a problem and anything left over means whatever they buy must be cheap.

    And here as in the UK, Australia, the US, Canada etc, housing has become the last quick buck bastion for the middle class who have few hopes on the horizon and now the renter population is being squeezed to breaking point, just to pay rent.

    In turn and over time incrementally retailers, in this example, realise big margin items are unsaleable so the margins ratchet further and further inward as wages stagnate, incomes vanish on things like rent, as competition bites. And as the system implodes.

    Business then operates beyond the law of the land, well not unless they are assisted by helpful governments to ensure things like zero hour contracts or virtually minimum hour contracts exist, that wages are very low and that no one but no one exercises their market-driven entitlements under the “free market” and walks away to something better. And to stop that happening flimsy labour laws are enacted and not enforced anyway and equally, flimsy immigration rules allow 3rd world citizens to come in and be exploited to the max until they are shipped home. And Aucklanders and Queenstowner all know how that band-aid ends don’t we?

    But something has to give because the laws of physics mean the end will come to this system. So far cheap debt has kept the wolf just from the door but that can’t go on either.

    And then what? My guess is it won’t be pretty.

  8. So it takes a court decision, and a bit of media reporting (RNZ mainly, I remember), for people to wake up and realise they have been ripped off? Nobody seemed to complain much, or do much, over the nine years the Natzional led government was in charge, doing all the employers wished them to do for them. Even under Helen Clark’s Labour led government there did not appear to be much grievances raised.

    Now, when a new Labour led government is in charge, when they at least talk about bringing in some improvements for workers (as humble as they may be), then people in retail and so suddenly see a need to communicate and contact unions and some media.

    The unions should get them all behind a kind of class action case, and also push the government for changes that make such conduct by employers ILLEGAL, full stop.

    This must be an opportunity for unions to reach out, to spread the word, and to recruit, recruit, and recruit, and represent workers. With modern day communication it should not be too hard, to communicate with members in many small and not so small work places, site visits may only be needed in some cases.

    This country needs higher unionisation, urgently.

  9. I believe nothing happens by chance…not WWI…not WWII…and not the one predicted to come in the lifetime of those still working. Also not by chance is the talk of robots taking over jobs. So, the more hoohaa by those with jobs the faster the robots will be rolled out.
    Everything that happens in this tiny, isolated, under populated country is carefully scripted. I tried to find out Helen Clarke’s net worth and the best was Forbes magazine saying 17 BILLION U.S.DOLLARS but couldn’t find it in print. Nevertheless the figure is shown in the Google search. What is sirjonkey worth. Wake up everyone.

  10. Many of the workers who have been illegally short paid will have been shafted for a lot longer than six years. Unfortunately, the Wages Protection Act only obliges employers to keep wage records for the previous six years. This must make it difficult to pursue a claim beyond a six year time frame.

    Well done to those unions that have been working on this issue on behalf of their members and other workers.

  11. Every day I thank my lucky stars that I belonged to a strong, smart union.
    It meant that front line delegates like myself could look after the day to day issues while the head office provided backup and dealt with complex issues like holiday pay.
    This takes money of course which comes from the fees paid by members. And this is why the bosses love voluntary unionism.
    We were staunch because we maintained full union membership in our workplace.
    The third world workplaces described by Kate are the direct result of the stripping away of union protection and I take my hat off to the unionists working in this environment.

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