Burger King year long ban highlights massive wage theft problem
Unite union supports the Labour Inspectorate’s enforcement action that has seen Burger King (Antares Restaurants) banned from getting new visas for migrant workers for a year.
The reason for then ban is for paying a salaried manager (and Unite union member) less than the minimum wage:
“This is a large high profile corporation and shows that this is not just a problem for small restaurants and fruit pickers - it goes right across most sectors and company sizes” said National Secretary Gerard Hehir.
(Burger King has 83 Restaurants and employees over 2,600 staff. It first opened in New Zealand in 1993 and is currently owned by one of the largest private equity firms in the world - New York based Blackstone Group. Group CEO Steve Schwarzman was paid US$786 million in 2017).
"Migrant workers are the most vulnerable to exploitation because their visa conditions often tie them to one employer. They fear speaking out because if they lose their job, they lose their ability to work in New Zealand. Employers who steal from their employees need to be sent a very clear message. Banning them from employing vulnerable migrant workers is a good start. If an employer is not able to guarantee the most basic minimum conditions allowed by law, they should not be able to hire vulnerable workers."
Unite is, however, concerned that some existing BK workers will not be able to renew their visas in the next 12 months because of the ban. Unite will be working closely with Immigration New Zealand and other employers they have relationships with to find alternative employment.
"We understand the regulations that govern these bans are being reviewed this year and we will be asking the government to allow migrant workers caught by such bans to have open visas granted to help them get new employment quickly. These types of workers should not suffer exploitation and then be punished for it along with the employer who exploited them.”
“The key factors in this case were the low level of salary, just above the minimum wage, and a failure to accurately record and pay for all hours worked. There are hundreds of thousands of workers at risk of this. Minimum wage laws can easily be broken where salaried or waged workers on low rates do not have accurate records of actual hours worked”
A salaried worker on $17 an hour ($35,360 pa) only has to work 90 minutes extra a week to end up being paid less than the minimum wage of $16.50 an hour. A salaried worker on over $41,000 pa would be paid less than the minimum wage if they worked just one extra 8 hour shift.
“Even missing paid breaks all week is enough to do it, or being forced to attend 15 minute unpaid meetings each day, or not being paid for cashing up tills at the end of the day. We have seen cases of all of these from large new Zealand companies recently. Salaried staff in particular are often expected to turn up earlier and finish later than their agreed work hours.”
“Employers need to record actual hours of work for all employees. It isn’t just migrant workers and employers - good old kiwi businesses will also be doing it to their kiwi workers.”
“Its time to call it what it is: Wage Theft. It is a huge problem in New Zealand and around the world. In the US it is estimated that wage theft outstrips robbery, car theft, burglary and larceny combined.”
“Our organisers regularly attend disciplinary meetings where workers are sacked and even charged by police with theft for eating a few chips or taking an extra cup of soft drink, but we are yet to see an employer lose their business or be charged, even when they the steal thousands of dollars from their employees wages. Where’s the justice in that?”
“We know workers in New Zealand are owed billions in holiday pay (https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/305459/holiday-pay-errors-could-top-$2b) but direct wage theft almost certainly dwarfs this over the same period.”
The good news for Burger King workers is that Unite’s newly settled agreements for both waged and salaried members at Burger King ensure both significant pay-rises and checks to make sure extra work is recorded and paid.
“We are now very confident that that Burger King will work with us to get the systems in place quickly to make sure all work is paid in full”.