Fast food companies are trying to wriggle out of legal and contractual obligations around basic rights of workers to guaranteed hours and annual leave.
Unite Union has started bargaining with McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands over the renewal of their respective collective agreements.
McDonald’s has refused to make an offer around pay until the results of a court case the union took against them this week are known. At the same time, they are giving all non-union staff a 60c an hour pay rise (ten cents above that mandated by the legal minimum wage increase) but not applying that increase to union members except if they are currently below the new minimum wage of $15.75 an hour (which they legally must pay)
Union members at McDonald’s voted overwhelmingly this week in favour of industrial action if necessary to move the company.
The court case against McDonald’s has become necessary to force the company to accept the meaning of the law change outlawing zero hour contracts. Companies were given until April 2016 to change the employment agreements for staff on Individual agreements to comply with the law. When Unite saw the new agreements we did not believe they met the requirements of the new law.
The ban on zero hour contracts followed a successful campaign against them by Unite in the fast food industry in the 2015 bargaining over the collective agreement. Until that year’s negotiations, the companies had been able to run a rostering regime without any guaranteed hours of work. By the end of that bargaining round all major fast food companies – McDonald’s, Restaurant Brands, Burger King and Wendy’s – agreed to bring in guaranteed hours.
There was huge public support for our campaign. It became obvious that tens of thousands of workers were in a similar situation. The government felt compelled to promise to outlaw the “worst aspects” of these contracts. However, they could not get a majority in parliament for their initial proposals and had to reach a deal with the opposition parties to get the law through. The compromise agreement went much further than they initially intended.
The new law said all employment agreements needed to include guaranteed hours. If workers were expected to be “available” for work they needed to be paid reasonable compensation for that “availability”. If there was no compensation paid then the worker had the right to refuse the work offered.
McDonald’s has tried to wriggle out of the legal responsibility by minimising the guaranteed hours being given. We had copies of around 100 staff who signed up with the company after the new law took effect in 2016 and then joined the union. Often the guaranteed hours were a few as three. On average, it was about 20% of the hours the staff were available to work.
McDonald’s offer of employment has a heading called “Availability” where workers list all the hours they can work in any week. They are encouraged to maximise their “availability” to get work. Some staff have 24-7 “availability”. But no compensation is being paid. The company argued that because the new agreements had the right to turn down work rostered in addition to their guaranteed hours this meant they did not need to pay for the availability.
The union argued that this was not the case. Even the guaranteed hours are being rostered within a workers “availability”. It doesn’t matter if they have the right to turn down additional work (which we don’t accept actually exists) because all the hours the worker must work are within an availability clause that must be compensated for. Otherwise, the intent of the new law could be easily subverted – as McDonald’s is in fact doing.
Because this is a new law and some of the language lacks clarity, this case is being seen as a test case that will help determine the true meaning of the law for many workers. A full bench of three judges in the Employment Court heard the case and we hope for a decision with the next few months.
Unite has also written to the company saying we consider that their decision to not pay union members the same as non-union staff will undermine the collective bargaining and the union’s role in it and is also contrary to Section 9 of the Employment Relations Act which prohibits preferential treatment to non-members. The situation is made worse by discriminatory undertakings given to the non-members that they will receive higher pay increases if the union achieves that in collective bargaining. We warned the company that if they proceeded with this course we will be challenging their actions, including legally.
We have also initiated legal action against Burger King over the interpretation of the collective agreement. When we signed the agreement in October 2015 it had guaranteed “shifts” in the wording rather than hours. We considered this a step forward beyond the McDonald’s agreement. But since the agreement was signed the company has continued to operate essentially the same system as McDonald’s with “hours” being rostered rather than “shifts”.
Restaurant Brands renegotiated their collective agreement after the law was changed to introduce a system of guaranteed shifts. Workers know what their days and hours of work are.
However, we again have problems around ensuring that new staff aren’t hired before shifts that become available by staff leaving are offered to existing staff. This is needed to ensure fairness and transparency and to enable existing staff to get the most suitable shifts to suit their life work balance.
Unite has always had a much stronger presence at Restaurant Brands than other companies. After a major dispute to get our first agreement in 2005-6 we have successfully negotiated without the need to take strike action. It came close on occasion but generally, the company saw sense in the end on the important issues. They were the first to agree to guaranteed hours in 2015 for example. McDonald’s, however, we have ended up in disputes on more occasions than not.
We have also acknowledged that we generally had slightly better wages and other conditions at Restaurant Brands than the other companies and there was a limit on how far ahead we could force the company to go.
The union’s goal this year was to ensure we have a fair system for allocating new shifts which is vital to putting the final nail in the zero-hours regime. We also wanted the company to cease to be a minimum wage employer for new staff and have the living wage there for all supervisory staff at least.
In negotiations this year, however, the company appears to be playing hardball. They are a very profitable company. It is way past time that they cease to be a minimum wage employer for starting staff. Even McDonald’s have said they will start staff at 10 cents above the minimum. It is a matter of public record that RBL has had significant staff shortages over the past year. Their workers have gone above and beyond with many working working long and demanding hours to contribute to the growing profits. Despite this many of their skilled, trained and experienced workers still rely on Working for Families and accomodation supplements to make ends meet. We think they should earn enough to support themselves and their families and that means paying a living wage.
We have been forced to adjourn negotiations and seek a ballot of members on industrial action to advance our claims. Restaurant Brands may well wish they had not unleashed the power of our members in their company. I think some times we need action at all employers at least occasionally just to remind them who creates the wealth they appropriate.
We are also still waiting for all the companies to come back to us on how much they owe staff for incorrectly calculating their annual leave entitlements for years. They all claimed to have appointed external auditors to check what they were paying and if “errors” were made correct them. What they need to know is that there will be no escaping this liability. They will have to do that calculation and report the results to the union . If necessary we will do the audits ourselves and claim the money back through other means. But these companies will be made to pay up in full.
Mike Treen is the National Director and has responsibilities for day to day operations with specific responsibilities for the Fast Food Restaurants and Language Schools.
By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director
(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)
Mike Treen (left) in discussion with police over access rights during strike at SkyCity Casino
New Zealand has been subjected to decades of neo-liberal orthodoxy. The period of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia in the late 1980s and early 1990s institutionalised a number of so-called free-market economic orthodoxies around so-called free trade, privatisations, “independence” to the Reserve Bank, “floating” the currency for free speculation, the “Fiscal Responsibility Act” and so on.
It was a genuine neoliberal revolution. We were praised around the world for our radicalism and economic “orthodoxy”. It all remains in place.
The result has been a dismal economic performance on average compared to most other advanced capitalist countries.Read more
The ‘People’s Climate Rally’ at the 2017 Petroleum Conference in Taranaki will include protest, workshops and entertainment. The rally is being organised by Taranaki locals and other groups working on climate change, fracking, oil and gas drilling, and social justice.
"Climate change is here. Unite union members were almost killed in West Auckland last week when floodwaters spilled onto electrical equipment in a fast food restaurant.
Climate change isn't something that low paid workers can buy their way out of. You won't find Unite union members buying $100,000 "green" electric cars, or jetting off to safety when the next climate disasters hit. For us, the fight for climate justice is literally a fight for survival.
Unite Union supports everyone taking direct action for climate justice by taking on the polluters face to face at the Petroleum Conference in Taranaki, just as we support workers who take on exploitative employers face to face at the negotiation table, in our workplaces, on our pickets, on our streets.”
- Gary Cranston: Unite Union organiser, West Auckland, Northland and environmental justice spokesperson.
Check out the programme and register here
The online publication of the New Zealand Labour Letter is provided as a service to Labour by AIL of New Zealand Ltd.
National Labour News
The Public Service Association (PSA) and New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) reached an agreement with the government to process pay equity claims based on the principles established by a joint working group led by Business NZ and the Council of Trade Unions. Legislation to implement the changes is expected later this year. In the meantime, the government agreed to accept the principles to resolve current pay equity claims. The agreement means employees who believe they are underpaid because they work in fields dominated by women will be able to make a pay equity claim. The first claims are PSA’s for social workers employed by the Ministry of Social Development and NZEI’s claim for education, behaviour and communication support workers with the Ministry of Education. The agreement will mean a “jump start” for pay equity, said CTU president Richard Wagstaff. "Working women who successfully demonstrate that they have a pay equity claim, will be able to be paid fairly.”
An 18 year old Burger King employee was assaulted by management on Sunday the 19th of February for monitoring temperature levels in an overheated and understaffed Burger King restaurant on Lincoln Road in West Auckland.
Workers had been forced to work in 33 degree heat and been refused rest breaks for up to five hours as the drive through backed up. Crew took it upon themselves to get a thermometer from nearby Burger Fuel workers, record the temperature at 33 degrees and call the air conditioning repair company after restaurant management failed to take action.
Unite Union has repeatedly warned senior company management of their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for its employees. Specifically we have on a number of occasions raised concerns about the inadequate air conditioning at the Lincoln Road restaurant and the company's failure to provide employees with needed rest breaks for health and safety reasons.
In 2015 workers at Burger King Lincoln Road walked off shift after being subjected to temperatures as high as 34.5 degrees and a disgusting fly infestation in the kitchen.
Workers and the union have been met with repeated delay, excuses and have been provided with incorrect information since reporting the widespread non provision of breaks at Lincoln Road Burger King last year.
Managers at the same restaurant have remained on staff after assaulting other workers. Workers have been rostered to continue working alongside people who have assaulted them rather than being separated to ensure their health and safety. The company has also disciplined and terminated workers who have defended themselves against assault. The comment by the manager who said "The customers are more important" tells us where the company's priorities lie, and its not with the welfare of their employees.
Yesterday's incident at Burger King Lincoln Road was immediately reported to West Auckland police who took a statement and explained that they will be making contact with the assailant.
The entire incident was captured on CCTV, which we are asking the company provide to unite union and have advised the police to obtain as part of their investigation. The company had previously attempted to conceal CCTV footage showing another manager assaulting another young female crew member in the same restaurant in 2012. [see link below]
Unite union organiser Gary Cranston will be representing another manager from Burger King's West City restaurant this week who was terminated by the company after defending herself against a violent customer who had verbally and physically attacked staff causing serious injuries. In this case the customer had made public complaints about the manager on Facebook that turned out to be untrue. The manager was terminated despite other workers at the store, loyal customers and even mall security presenting a petition to the company asking not to sack the manager because she was acting in defence of herself and her coworkers. Perhaps because Antares Group, who owns the BK franchise in New Zealand really does believe that "the customers are more important" than the welfare of their employees.
For comment contact Gary Cranston
Fast Food Organiser
West Auckland - Northland
029 4555 979
Armourguard Security have stood down a security guard from a WINZ site because he complained to his union that the company was not taking the guards health and safety seriously.
Dave Toopi, a Unite delegate and union executive member, complained to his union that the new ID check procedure being demanded of WINZ clients put the guards at risk because they have to act at receptionists as well as guards.
Guards are expected to stop all clients, check if they have ID, check if they have an appointment and the time of the appointment. They are holding a folder with sheets of names and appointment times. This creates holdups during busy periods.
The union believes that this can create unnecessary tension between the clients and the guards. The guards are also in a vulnerable position when doing paperwork for WINZ and not in a position to react quickly.
Clients are often in an agitated state given the culture of denial of people's entitlements that the government has encouraged among the management staff.
Over the last decade, this has seen the number of working age people accessing welfare support fall by 5% when the unemployment rate only fell 2%.
Security Guards at Armourguard also had their RTs taken off them as a cost saving exercise. There is also no one button emergency communication mechanism available to all guards at the company as recommended by the coroner following the death of a security guard in 2013.
These workers are barely paid above the minimum wage yet are expected to be multitasking machines.
Unite will not accept having our member being made a victim of for standing up for the rights of his fellow workers.
For comment contact Mike Treen
09 8452132 ext 20
Related: Union Anger at MSD ID crackdown
Security guards unionised by Unite Union at MSD sites are angry with new policy changes brought in by the Government yesterday, that now sees them stopping every citizen trying to access their rights and asking them for their name, appointment, and photo ID.
New York protest for increase in minimum wage and a union.Read more
The social movement of 2017 hit the streets of Glen Innes in strength yesterday to defend Ioela Niki Rauti from eviction at the hands of the State. Activists from many campaign groups united pledging material and physical solidarity to stop the ethnic and social cleansing of working class Glen Innes, built on Maori land to provide "homes for heroes" after the suffering of two world wars and the Depression.