A senior chef has described New Zealand's hospitality industry as "awful", blaming its minimum wages on the current dire employment shortage.
Anezca, who doesn't want her last name used, spent 15 years in the kitchen in Czech Republic and New Zealand. However it's New Zealand's industry that has forced her to put the knives down.
"It's the same everywhere, working minimum wage or maybe $1 above the minimum wage, that's what I'm getting after all these years of experience."
Anezca told Newshub her experience and love for cooking is being abused by employers.
"I feel like employers in New Zealand have this feeling that whoever has two hands they can do the job, so they don't mind paying minimum wage because they think everyone can do the job."
Raise the Bar hospitality advocate Chloe-Ann King is backing that sentiment, calling the industry exploitative.
"They are behaving illegally every single day, whether that's not getting our adequate breaks, whether that's not giving us our individual employment agreement."
Anezca considered working at The Warehouse following her struggles to get a break.
"You can work at The Warehouse, earn better money and you can have a break, you can sit like an actual human being."
Anezca told Newshub she has been forced out of the industry after feeling like she has been exploited for too long.
"I used to get the break taken off of my hours, I was told by a head chef 'I just need to take time for it'. How ridiculous."
King says she is hearing from veteran hospitality workers every day exhausted with their pay rate.
"It is the number one reason why people are leaving the industry and never want to return."
Anezca told Newshub if people are paid for the work they do, employers might have luck hiring.
"If people are paid enough money to feel validated for the work they do, a lot of people would actually want to work in hospo."
King says she is hearing exactly that from hospitality workers.
"Lower wages are the number one reason why hospitality workers are leaving the industry, basically saying they never want to return."
Living Wage Governance board chair Gina Lockyer told Newshub there are only around 200 accredited cafes and restaurants across the country.
"Businesses are noticing the benefits, being able to maintain staff, staff wellbeing and staff feel valued."
Anezca told Newshub she is excited to start her new venture in the environmental industry, but recognises the pay would be similar.
"It will probably be paid the same but I'm not going to have to deal with the conditions in the kitchen."
King says due to the shortage there is an increase in jobs, giving an opportunity for workers to negotiate pay.
"We have a lot of bargaining room right now to bargain for better wages and to bargain for better working conditions."