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Star Hospitality Workers Organise!

Unite union has initiated a process to negotiate a union collective agreement with Star Hospitality  - a Heineken owned hospo group with over 50 premises throughout the North Island. Site visits to the majority of Star Hospitality venues last week resulted in an “overwhelming” number of new members, with the union’s message of better wages, decent work and union representation striking a chord with workers. 

Employing more than 1500 staff, Star Hospitality is one of NZ’s biggest hospo employers you may never have heard of. Owned in turn by Heineken, it’s a corporate group that grew out of a 2023 merger between Kāpura, a Wellington based hospo grouping that owned more than 35 venues across the Wellington region, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, and Joylab (DB Breweries), which operated more than 20 bars and restaurants across Auckland. 

During the nationwide meetings around setting up a Hospitality Fair Pay Agreement (FPA), that the National, Act & NZ First coalition government has subsequently scrapped, some Star Hospitality workers came into contact with Unite union and joined. In a concerted effort to bring union representation to such a large workforce, Unite initiated the process to negotiate a union collective agreement with Star Hospitality, and last week organised a massive round of site visits where nearly all of the Star Hospitality venues were visited by Unite organisers, resulting in an “overwhelming” amount of new members. Unite’s online membership form crashed over the weekend, though the Union has yet to confirm whether the surge in Star Hospitality signups was to blame.

Wellington based Star Hospitality lead organiser Ben Peterson said part of the reason for such a positive response in the city was the former promises from Kāpura around paying all of their staff a living wage. Kāpura had basked in positive media coverage following the lockdowns as the hospo employer that “Turned Crisis into Caring”, and their promises to pay all staff the Living Wage were widely reported on, with proud Kāpura director Andrew "Will" Williams saying “We think it's the right thing to do” in 2022. Fast forward a year and the business had been sold and those commitments to paying a living wage ditched. Williams continued as a shareholder. Heineken has a policy to support paying living wages, but that has not resulted in Star Hospitality walking the talk by adopting the Living Wage ($26/h in 2024).

On the site visits last week, Unite organisers encountered venues whose printed menus had previously announced that staff were paid a Living Wage, but following the merger those had simply been crossed out in black vivid. “It’s really left a bad taste in the mouths of staff”, says Peterson, “and has reminded workers why belonging to a union is so important”. 

Unite organisers talked to workers about three key demands - the need to be paid the  Living Wage, the need for secure and decent work with minimum guaranteed shifts and hours and fair, transparent rostering, and the need for hosp employees to have a voice at work through belonging to a union. Next steps will involve consolidating and expanding union representation, and focusing on improving conditions and solving problems encountered on the visits where many venues had “Definite room to improve to bring [working conditions] up to industry standards”.

Moving forward, Peterson said there was still a lot of work to do. “There will be a union contract for these members. How strong that is, and what it contains is up to them - our members set our direction. The more people we have, the better outcomes we can achieve. We believe [Star Hospitality employees] deserve good work - and together we can make it happen.”

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