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Workers are not disposable objects
by Daphna Whitmore
It is common for hotels to contract out part of their business in a bid to drive down costs and maximise profits. It’s causing misery for workers.
“Don’t come to work tomorrow. If you do I’ll call the cops”. That was how Beth Downs, a waitress at Atlantis restaurant in the Ascott Metropolis hotel, learned that she and four work mates no longer had jobs.
In January they had been told the hotel was looking for a new restaurant contractor. Atlantis restaurant’s contract would end on March 3. If a new contractor couldn’t be found Ascott would run the restaurant directly. Either way, the staff would be kept on, they were assured.
As the date approached staff became concerned that they still didn’t know who would be running the restaurant. Finally Peter Gibbs, manager of Atlantis restaurant, and Alison Englebretsen, Ascott GM, agreed to sit down and talk with the union members.
At the meeting Gibbs and Englebretsen were tight-lipped about who the new contractor would be. They “couldn’t say” … “it’s with the lawyers” … “we don’t know”. Round and around it went, the only point being clarified was that the workers were getting the boot. The next day they would be out of work. That was that.
In fact it was Gibbs who had been awarded the contract. Even before the staff were dumped he was advertising for their replacements. People who were not in the union were kept on.
Why were the union members singled out and sacked? There had been no complaints about their work and they were well liked by the patrons and fellow staff.
It wasn’t the first time there had been problems. Unite had battled for nearly a year with Gibbs to provide pay slips, to pay wages on time, and pay them into the workers’ bank accounts. The crunch came when, a week before Christmas, staff spotted a notice on the wall saying they wouldn’t be paid that week “due to insufficient funds”. With some firm encouragement from Unite Ascott hotel stepped in and forwarded the money for the wages.
It was with relief that staff heard a few weeks later that the contract with Atlantis was ending. They thought the worst was over. Unfortunately there was more.
They discovered that deductions from their wages for student loan repayments, child support payments and taxes had not been paid to Inland Revenue. Union fees had also been deducted and not paid. One of the waitresses, Gala Fnan Reis-Williams, thought her student loan was being paid off as each week Gibbs was deducting around $50 for the repayment. She has since discovered that her debt is not paid off and the interest has grown.
The workers want to know what happened to their missing wages.
Ascott Metropolis deny any responsibility. While the managers chant “It’s nothing to do with us” the workers feel they have been swindled.
Perhaps the employers thought the staff would meekly accept this treatment. If so, they were wrong.
Unite launched a series of protests outside the hotel in support of the sacked workers. As well, the union has filed a complaint with the Employment Authority against the restaurant contractors and Ascott Metropolis. But the wheels of the judicial system turn slowly.
In contrast, people have been quick to lend support. Motorists honk their horns as they drive by the protests; a local café has dished out free coffees to the pickets; a lawyer who works nearby has given helpful advice and bottles of fruit juice (all that chanting is thirsty work). In a great act of solidarity workers from around 10 inner-city hotels joined a picket outside the Ascott, and recently around 30 supporters marched into the hotel with the workers, sat down in the restaurant and spoke out against the injustice.
As we go to press the protests continue. If the hotel imagined the staff would crawl away quietly they were mistaken. They have resolved to fight the injustice.