'You sign it because you're hard up'

'You sign it because you're hard up'

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Gabriel Griffin signed a contract at the new Wendy's outlet in Dunedin that does not guarantee weekly working hours.

(Published on Otago Daily Times Online News

Unions are fighting them, employers say they do not exist. Carla Green reports on zero-hour contracts. 

When Gabriel Griffin signed his work contract with the new Wendy's outlet in South Dunedin, he knew what he was signing.
''I signed it because I wanted the money, and that's why everyone else signed it as well. You sign it because you're hard up, that's it,'' he said.

But that does not mean he is happy about it.

Mr Griffin, a 20-year-old who lives in Port Chalmers, is one of thousands of workers throughout New Zealand employed under what are called ''zero-hour'' contracts - agreements that do not guarantee the worker a set number of hours a week (or any hours at all, necessarily), but usually make it difficult or impossible for workers to seek alternative employment.

The contracts first came into widespread use in the United Kingdom following the global financial crisis in 2008.

Since then, they have become common in New Zealand, especially in the fast-food industry.

Critics generally identify several key issues with the agreements: they do not allow workers to plan financially (because they do not know how many hours they will be rostered on each week); they result in many of an establishment's workers being underemployed when they want to work full-time; and businesses require workers to be on call.

According to the Unite union's South Island organiser, Ben Peterson, Wendy's is just one of several fast-food establishments that use zero-hour contracts.

''It's not that Wendy's is worse than the others,'' he said.

The union is in the process of negotiating with Wendy's on a variety of issues, including zero-hour contracts.

''For the most part, there's been no movement around providing better hours and better protection to those hours,'' Mr Peterson said.