A major survey of fast food workers in New Zealand has exposed the reality of “Zero Hour Contracts” for workers and some of the myths used to justify them.
Over a thousand fast food union members working for the major brands in New Zealand responded to Unite Union’s online survey, with nearly 700 giving detailed information on their working hours over the previous four weeks. That is the biggest response Unite Union has ever had to a member survey.
“Unfortunately it confirms in detail what we already knew from our worksite visits” said Unite Union National Secretary Gerard Hehir.
“Most fast food workers are willing and able to work more hours on a regular basis but are simply not given the opportunity. Over half who took part actually want an increase to 35 hours or more a week. We know hours become available on regular basis as other staff leave, but the companies choose to employ new staff and allocate hours week to week rather than offer any security of income.”
“This causes real hardship – 79% reported problems with paying basic living costs like rent, power, phone, food and transport as a direct result of hours changing week to week. 42% said these problems happen on a regular basis.”
Mr Hehir said many of the 340 comments in the survey were disturbing. “You can sense the deep seated frustration and desperation of people who have a job, want to work more to support themselves and their families but simply aren’t being given the opportunity or the necessary security of income.”
Mr Hehir said there were a few myths being repeated as some try to justify the practice.
“The survey results bust those myths and reveal what exactly zero hours contracts are, who they affect, and who they really benefit” (see Seven Zero Hour Myths vs Reality for more detail).
“The main myth is that workers like the ‘flexibility’ of these contracts. That is nonsense. Who likes their work schedule and pay packet to be a lottery each week?”
“Employers like them because it keeps workers desperate to pick up any extra shifts at short notice, allows them to cut their workforce at will and, especially, provides a powerful way to punish workers without regard to the law or natural justice.”
“We also need to be really clear; a zero hours contract is one where your employment agreement doesn’t state agreed minimum hours. Almost all fast food workers and tens of thousands of other hospitality and retail workers have zero hours contracts. Some get reasonably steady hours most weeks but their hours can legally be cut at any time.”
Almost two-thirds (64%) in the survey reported a reduction in rostered hours in the previous four weeks.
“Not being able to take on other part-time jobs, having to be available 24/7 and being told your hours daily instead of weekly are all additional burdens some employers make, but these would be a very small minority of zero hours workers. We welcome any improvements in conditions but the changes Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse has signalled don’t actually address zero hours and will do nothing for the vast majority of workers on those contracts.”
“Finding out your hours have been cut a few days early instead of a few hours is cold comfort. The rent, power and food cost don’t get cut and still have to be paid.”
Mr Hehir said the union had in the past negotiated various clauses and agreements to try and ensure existing workers were at least offered additional work as it became available, but the constant monitoring of rosters at every store was simply not possible.
“The answer is actually very simple. Worker’s rights to minimum hours need to be spelt out in their employment agreement so that everyone is clear about their obligations from the start. That is what we are asking both the fast food companies and the government to ensure this year.”