Teenage Schoolgirl Waitresses – Predatory Manager – Owner: “Not My Problem”

24
1922

This story started out as two workers pushed out of their jobs in an upmarket Auckland café. Teenage waitresses at the café were required to attend work but were only paid when they were physically on the floor. The rest of the time they sat in the staffroom unpaid. It was outrageous, but it was a simple case of exploitation. However, during a meeting with the bosses, it went dark.

The manager, we found out, was having serial “relationships” with his schoolgirl charges. There were accusations of favourtism. When I queried the owner, she said she didn’t get involved in the romantic relationships of her employees. Really? These schoolgirls were 16-year-old. He was their adult boss. 

This case began when I met two teenagers who worked after school. Both of them were from reasonably wealthy families who didn’t actually need to work. Their parents wanted them to have the responsibility of earning their own money. The café was in the swanky end of town. The customers were the well-heeled.

We settled this particular case in mediation which the girls were very happy about. Unfortunately for us, the terms of settlement mean I can’t identify the people involved or the business. But by telling this story, other young workers might come forward and get justice. This story won’t be unique. 

I am told by other young hospitality workers that not being paid for downtime whilst still being required to be at work, is not unusual. This is pure exploitation. I hope any affected worker will contact us if this is still happening in their workplace. Managers seeking sexual favours is standard fare in many workplaces. But schoolgirls preyed upon by their adult manager is something much more sinister. This is serious abuse at the top end.

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I got a call from an official from another union who asked if I would help with a case. I was introduced to two young teenagers. They were both bright and chatty. One was 16 and the other 17-years-old. The two girls had been frozen out of their part-time jobs after they had complained about their treatment to their bosses. 

At this workplace, the waitresses were mainly students on part-time shifts. There was a rostered start time, but no finish time. When the workers arrived, they were sent to the staffroom. They didn’t go onto the floor to serve customers unless instructed by the manager. When it got quiet, they’d be sent back. They would clock in and clock out as the moved between the floor to the staffroom. They were only paid for the time on the floor. This is illegal. Clearly, it is exploitative. 

These two girls had kept all their shift and wage details. After reading through their evidence I could see they were shortchanged in about one in three shifts. Over the months they had worked there, it amounted to several thousands of dollars. One girl was paid for 20 minutes on one night but was required to sit in the staff room for four hours. 

Whilst this is an outrageous case in its own right, I thought the employer would claim a ‘misunderstanding’ and backpay the two workers and we could move on. But no. Their lawyer responded in her first email that the company had no case to answer. 

I looked up the business on-line. The company had several other upmarket outlets. The owner lived in a leafy liberal enclave and proudly promoted environmental causes on her website. Over several exchanges, her lawyer, on her behalf, continued to refuse admitting any wrongdoing. This was before I was writing for Daily Blog and had no UTU truck to turn up outside their café to focus their minds. Eventually, they reluctantly agreed to mediation. 

The boss turned up with an entourage exuding charm and relentless positivity. Her sales pitch was she was doing the girls a favour. According to this self-proclaimed benefactor, all the schoolgirls she employed really appreciated that they could sit in the staffroom for long periods and complete their homework. And having the opportunity get paid for interludes on the floor was a win/win for everyone. She beamed at me expectedly. I think that was a cue for me to praise her largesse. 

Clearly, I couldn’t see her big picture. When the girls said they were ostracised after they raised their complaints, she was affronted and asked for evidence. When they went through several examples of being left out of the “it” crowd, such as not being invited to parties and banned from the Christmas party, the boss and her lawyer feigned boredom with eye rolls. I finally understood the popularity of the teenage film “Mean Girls”. Ugh! 

Just before a break, things got real nasty. One of their flunkies present covertly slips the lawyer a note with a side whisper. The lawyer looks up at us. She reads out a name and asks the 16-year-old if she knows the name. The young woman next to me tenses. I immediately respond: “we will answer after the break”. The lawyer smirks. “It’s a simple question, we’d like her to answer it?” I clip back that these girls have just said they were bullied by their managers and this was an example. The lawyer asks for the mediator to force the girl to answer. I told them to piss off!

In the break, the 16-year-old said the person was her 25-year-old manager. They’d had “an affair”. Her mate said that everyone had been annoyed at work because she had got preferred shifts from the manager. I asked if there were others. They said there had been four girls during the time they were employed. I sat there stunned. Both girls had been there less than a year. “That’s one about every two months?” “Yes”. Geezers. 

We reconvene. I ask did they know the name they raised before the break. “Yes”. “Why was it raised then?” “There were issues between the manager and her, she hadn’t disclosed.” Me, looking at the boss, who isn’t looking quite as poised. Does she think it’s appropriate for her managers to groom their young employees for sex? She replied employees’ romantic relationships weren’t her business. Did she feel a 16-year-old entering into a relationship with her adult manager was not her business? The gap between her and her 25 years old boss is surely a generation gap. The owner replies it’s no longer a problem as he no longer works there. “Was he sacked?” No. According to the boss, he was “very popular”, and she continued to have a “good relationship” with him. Extraordinary. 

The young girl pipes up, helpfully letting us all know she “takes full responsibility for her actions”. There are certainly people in the room who should be taking responsibility for their actions. But not the youngest person, and certainly not the victim. The sound of crickets on the other side of the table was deafening. Disgusting!

I’d had enough. The gloves came off. The only thing that saved this owner was that the two girls didn’t want to drag the process out any further. And understandably, the victim didn’t want her parents to know the full trauma she had been through. A deal was done, the girls got all their wages backdated and in addition received a modest compensation. They thought it was fantastic. I wanted more, a lot more. But then, it’s not about me. None of the other side acknowledged their former employees’ mistreatment, let alone offered an apology. 

As with any case in mediation, any outcome it is confidential, and the perpetuators don’t have to admit any wrongdoing. And they never do. At least the girls were chuffed. They were so happy they got some justice. They were rapt about getting all their back hours paid and getting an unexpected lump sum compensation. 

But the boss and her flunkies were never held accountable. It cost them some money. But loose change, really. The owner never conceded her managers or herself had done anything wrong. 

The opportunity to write articles on the Daily Blog will tip the scales for future cases like this. I am now able to write what really goes on in the real struggles of working-class people in the precariat. I can do this before I get muzzled in the legal framework. 

This article should upset you. But I want to inspire you to help me do something about how vulnerable workers are being crushed every day. 

We will campaign to publicly expose these exploiters and abusers. To help the project I purchased our little UTU bus. It’s getting fitted out at this very moment and will be ready next week. I needed $5,000 to get it on the road. I’ve never done a Give-a-Little Page before I started writing on Daily Blog a fortnight ago. I am extraordinarily grateful to many Daily Blog readers who have chipped in over $2,500 so far. I need to raise the rest by next week. If I had this bus when I first met these girls, I would have turned up at this café and exposed their employer’s behavior. 

If you know of similar incidences of workplace abuse email us at justice@oneunion.org.nz

If this story upsets you as much as it does me, then help me do something practical about it. Our little team are doing our best. If you can chip in, I’d be grateful. Click through here and help us reach our funding target so we get our little UTU bus on the road. 

This really is a story you need to share with everyone you know. The more people who know, the easier it will be to end exploitation and abuse in the workplace.

Thank you / Nga Mihi,

 

Matt McCarten is the National Director of One Union and an UTU Trustee

24 COMMENTS

  1. When a P.M can over step the mark with a waitress, and get away with it, it maybe sends a signal to some sick people in out society that maybe it is OK or ‘they’ll get away with it’.
    As you say ‘chump change’ was the bill, not prison or shamed in society.

  2. Great bus Matt. This is the workers standing up for us all because the misnamed LABOUR government refuses to. Unions, the people who also gave us weekends!!!!

  3. Kia Ora All – Thanks for reading the article. Leaving comments helps get a better understanding of what readers think. I look at comments each day and respond if I think it helps the discussion. Hopefully all of us can learn from each other. Nga Mihi. P.S. Those who can help by flicking through a couple bucks for the UTU bus is always appreciated.

    • When you put boys and girls together in a closed high-stress environment for long periods of the time sex is pretty much inevitable. That’s top-down management for you. My advice would be to be a little Hitler and be nice and you won’t get caught.

      It looks like the employer assumes it had all been consensual, but that after workmates, friends and family give woman shit about it then it’d be uncomfortable, and that is the basis for an entirely different investigation.

      Because of the nature of low wage and unskilled work the only thing that people who know better can do is to ensure that the victim’s CV is as pristine as possible because once someone like that says something its all to easy for an employer to simply replace the unskilled worker. So ensuring that the victim has decent employment prospects elsewhere is essential to protecting the job, litigating and fixing it up for the next person who fills the role.

      How awful would it be to have this shmuck going around thinking he won. That just can’t be. Vulnerable people much less victims don’t get to choose if an industry has honour and integrity, that’s up to people who know better.

  4. I had heard, of a college ‘professor’ who had a sexual liaison with a / several female students in the 2000’s , who went on to favour them and push them to the top of the class in that particular Polytech. It would have needed the complicity of other tutors to do so. Apparently it went to court.

    I was doing a science and technology diploma at the time. I was incredulous, but also had pressing family matters at that time such as a child with ALL (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia) cancer, I remember that frenetic time as a ‘blur’ of memory’s… I also witnessed other forms of definite cheating by several foreign students , – some of which claimed proudly to me they had personally ‘bought’ degree’s before coming to NZ, of which while I had no direct evidence of, yet was most certain of seeing cheating going on undetected firsthand locally…in fact I know I did. Little things,… but cheating nonetheless.

    It is distasteful, and difficult to believe because it all sounds so much like some cheap American sitcom… but this is sadly , how certain parts of the world perform…and they look at us as naïve and soft targets.

    Corruption and ‘ favours’ is rife in this country.

    Due to free market deregulation under neo liberalism.

    You will be uncovering a mountain of cases, Matt. Your workload will be huge. I can only wish you well when the govt should be, by rights,… taking up yours, Unites and other Unions fight against dishonesty.

    Until then,….

    2 Chronicles 7:14

    “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

  5. Matt – this is as disgusting as it gets but I guess it is the new normal in today’s world. While the exploitation of the young woman by the 25 year old manager is bad enough, and good on you for turning it back onto the owner, what is worse is the owner’s dismissive attitude and the sneering from the lawyer which would have added to the trauma these two young women experienced.

    We as a society are meant to have come out of the dark past where this sort of behaviour was common but obviously not so. What is galling is that the owner makes out that she is an environmentalist and no doubt she would scream from the roof-tops that she has “zero-tolerance” to bullying/exploitation but the reality is she and people like her endorse this behaviour. This owner is an abuser plain and simple but she will never accept what she is. She may have turned up exuding charm and positivity but her soul is dark and ugly.

    Matt, I am saving up some money to donate to your cause because what you are doing is so worthwhile. How do I get it to you?
    .

    • Kia Ora Suffajet, Thanks for your kind offer. As you can probably observe I am 100% in this fight. To write about the precariat struggles I get up at 5am every morning for the last two weeks so I have enough time. Then from 9am I start the job of actually doing the job.
      But I am grateful for ANY support people can contribute. So far I’ve used my own money (I have to walk the talk first). But now we are stepping up big time I need others to also contribute what they can,
      1. If it’s a modest Koha then linking on to Give-a’little link from the article is the best way to contribute. We have had 8 donations of nearly $500 within 6 hours of this article going up so so I’m very happy.
      2. If you are able to donate $100 or $200 then you can “buy” a “foundation brick”. As from next week we will actually have a “foundation wall” in our office. As well a have a virtual online version.The names of our “foundation supporters’. will be labelled on their brick. The foundation fund is for our fixed cost (rent, internet, phones, OPEX etc). I’m working on finishing that project over weekend.
      3. For supporter of serious money I have projects they could invest in. But best for me to discuss it with them individually.
      In the meantime the union account is:
      One Union. ASB 3007 0060312 00
      If you want us to contact you put in your bank reference your cell phone so we can contact you.
      My personal email is support@oneunion.org.nz
      Raising money is important work. It will make us fighting and winning for the working class possible.
      Thank you / Nga Mihi

  6. Great Bus Matt. How come you have to do the job that the misnamed Labour government refuses to. Unions are the people who brought us weekends !!!

  7. ‘The lawyer smirks. “It’s a simple question, we’d like her to answer it?”’ This part of the narrative shows that despite all the efforts that were made to clean up the bullying and sexual abuse proclivities that permeated the legal profession, little has changed. Another target for the UTU bus Matt?

  8. sexual exploitation of young women in the hospitality industry is nothing new.In the past ( 1970’s0 ther was no where to go to and no one cared anyway. Sexual harassment by fellow workers and clientele for those women who worked as bartenders was the norm. Indeed when I worked as one in Western Australia I was sacked for refusing to work topless. Men have a predatory agenda where women especially young women are concerned. For any young woman to think otherwise is foolish. The only reason ANYTHING has changed in this regard is because women like me raise heterosexual sons who aren’t predatory arseholes who disrespect women as a matter of course. Baby-boomer males are theworst offenders.

    • I particularly appreciate your answer about “women like me raise heterosexual sons who aren’t predatory arseholes….” as I often wonder how so many men can get the disgusting attitudes to women that they have. I am thankful that my mother raised us (4 boys, 2 girls) to have respect for the opposite sex & a set of values that kept us out of trouble. Dad’s are obviously important to & while mum was loving she was no doormat & it was emphasized that violence was not allowed, my parents disagreed at times but only words were used. While I don’t think my parents were perfect I would not have changed them & even the occasional hiding I got growing up was a positive learning experience.

  9. I worked in Hospo for nearly twenty years. I’ve seen all sorts of bad behaviour, (mine included), and work practices. But this? Its a new kind of low.

  10. Tino pai to mahi, Matt. Well done for bringing this to the light of day. It is disgraceful, there will be many others. Let’s hope they are also exposed and that the victims are compensated. But we need systemic change on this, and the silence from those in power, ie, the government, is deafening.

  11. Good work Matt. If there are any other victims of this employer hopefully they will feel able to come forward and you can then do some naming and shaming before the legal processes kick in. I have a sneaking suspicion about who the employer might be but will keep them to myself so as not to compromise anybody.

  12. I have a 100 bucks I can donate. This is a oncer. As a pensioner my cash resources are limited.
    How do I get the dosh to you?
    I mean Matt, not the idiot.

    • Kia Ora Peter. See above my response to suffrajet. Probably best clicking the link in the article though. Thanks brother.

    • This is easier.
      Asb 12 3077 0060312 00
      one union. Insert your name and phone number in bank reference so we can contact u to provide receipt.
      And to thank you.

  13. 2020, not learn, unionism has to be compulsory, used to be, and growth did swell, for employers and workers afford of home and employers profit.

  14. Shocking. Lots of sexual harassment, inappropriate relationships in the hospitality industry and has been that way forever.

    Also these examples show that exploitation is not race/class based in NZ, the employers are doing it to anybody they can get away with. It’s our national pastime to try and get free labour here.

    Migrants are just a new way to exploit everybody further, for competition and to avoid change as there is a plethora of new unknowing workers to exploit, as their old workers quit.

    Changes are needed to stop new workers constantly coming into NZ on various visas, and proper employment laws for casual/part time/full time workers, a quick disputes process and free advice (similar to tenancy services) a 1 -2 year wait by the ERO is not acceptable. If they adopted this, eventually the bad employers would be litigated out or have no staff. They should include self employed and those working for free without a contract within employment disputes.

    Historic labour exploitation is actually getting worse in NZ, as getting free or cheap labour in NZ using our not fit for purpose laws, is expanding.

    Chorus is an example from the past decade, as the CEO exploiters, with lawyers and government asleep at the wheel (and actually secretly wanting the cheaper rates), change the ‘status’ of an employee by making the Chorus workers self employed to make them work under minimum wages and thus destroy the telecoms/IT industry from the inside out.

    Funny enough you don’t get experienced people or youth wanting to go into that industry anymore when they lower the wages and legally exploit people!

    Like trucking and construction, exploited and under paid labour destroys the entire industry if you allow experienced people to be exploited and under paid as the norm in an industry and use casual/naive/new to NZ, employees to replace them, so that it is easier to cheat and lower wages here.

    • Government also need to urgency bring in, required redundancy payments to stop people in NZ being hired/fired willy nilly here and being able to casualise experienced workers in NZ which traditionally causes the brain drain.

      It’s pretty easy to circumvent employment laws in NZ, by making everyone a contractor or self employed or through third parties and the growing use of new and imaginative ways of company structures to exploit people.

      Lower wages, is less taxes for government and more wage top ups to pay. You would think it would be to the governments benefit to get stricter on NZ’s abusive employment methods, but nope, the bureaucrats in NZ worship cheap labour, Rogernomics and the low wage culture here.

  15. Great work, Matt.
    Would my case interest you? Four years ago I was brought to New Zealand as a teacher of a shortage subject of Design and Engineering at a South Auckland Senior School. The visa I was brought in on (Essential Skills) turned out to be nothing short of what they call a ‘Slave Visa’ in the Middle East. After coming from the cutting edge of international education, at the top of my game, I was subject to a backwards mentality towards education, a toxic work environment where my colleagues were afraid to look up from their shoes, and a management regime that regularly employed bullying, threats and illegal behaviour as part of their daily application, even to the point of serious detriment to the school, its students and the school’s whanau as a whole. Encouraged as a professional to raise standards and promote best practice and worker/student wellbeing I engaged fully in the wider school life and took up opportunities to contribute to the same. Due to the level incompetency at the top level, all offers of assistance were looked upon as threats. This resulted in a protracted campaign against me, which included discrimination, threats, theft of property, over scrutiny of performance management with an intent towards dismissal. A investigation was conducted by an unbelievably biased Board of Trustees who failed to follow even simple and clearly defined legal protocols, during which I was directly threatened over the phone by the Principal. I was eventually dismissed from teaching for the ‘serious misconduct’ of the non attendance of seven meetings. The Board of Trustrees refused requests for the reason for dismissal to be stated on my dismissal letter, leaving me with a credential with extremely negative overtones. From their, the Principal deliberately misrepresented me to the Teaching Council and potential employers both here and overseas. In pursuit of a personal grievance for unfair dismissal, I am faced with dwindling resources to the point of living under canvas for six months and a smokescreen legal system that leans heavily in favour of the incumbent employer, whatever his conduct and actions, even to the appointment of a system paid for, off Queen Street legal representative. Would welcome any help or support you can give, and pray for you every success in combating the highly distasteful Kiwi employment framework.

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