New AUT research reveals 'concerning' insights into the poor working conditions of New Zealand's hospitality staff

Almost half of New Zealand's hospitality staff have experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace and over 80 percent said they received no training in their roles, according to new data.

Researchers at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) analysed workplace practices in Aotearoa's hospitality industry and have now released recommendations to improve the conditions for staffers. 

Released on Friday, the report, Voices From The Front Line, gives voice to hospitality workers who often feel overlooked or marginalised in their roles. The findings highlight unfair and illegal practices among a significant minority of employers, the researchers said, who are now aiming to start discussions to improve experiences in the workplace and long-term sustainability for the industry. 

"Prior to the pandemic, hospitality in Aotearoa gave employment to 140,000 people, but unfortunately it has a bad reputation in how its employees are treated," Dr David Williamson, the lead author of the study, said on Friday.

"The majority of employers are doing the right thing, but there is a significant minority of workplaces that are failing to comply with employment law and failing to provide decent work conditions. As the sector starts the post-COVID rebuild, now is the time to address these concerning issues."  

A survey of 396 hospitality workers found that:

  • 16 percent had not signed an employment agreement before starting work
  • 13 percent were not receiving the correct payslips
  • 18 percent were not receiving the minimum wage
  • 22 percent did not get the correct holiday pay
  • 22 percent were not getting time off or correct pay for working statutory holidays
  • 22 percent were not receiving the correct rest breaks
  • 81 percent stated they received no training in their jobs
  • 48 percent did not get opportunities for promotion
  • 49 percent experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace
  • Owners and managers or supervisors were responsible for 40 percent of the reported harassment
  • 49 percent did not report harassment incidents
  • 69 percent were aware of health and safety risks in their workplace
  • 10 percent belonged to a union
  • 29 percent are in temporary/casual employment.

Support and direction from employer groups, unions and the Government is required to tackle these issues, the researchers said.

The report has outlined three priorities to encourage positive change in the industry: driving out the minority of bad employers, ensuring decent employment practices in the industry, and changing the image of hospitality work.

Removing the bad employers could be achieved if better systems of enforcing employment conditions in a timely and effective manner are introduced, the report said. Organisations that represent employers should name and shame to support most of their members who are doing the right thing. Having a ranking system of employers displayed for customers would also allow them to make their own informed choices to support good working conditions.

There is also a need to focus on pay and conditions, training and development, and enabling employees to speak up on topics like service quality and employment standards, the researchers added.

The often negative view of hospitality work also must change to help overcome recruitment and retention problems, but this can only happen after the industry has been cleaned up, the report continued.

Voices From The Front Line was headed by Dr David Williamson from AUT's School of Hospitality and Tourism, with Professor Erling Rasmussen from the New Zealand Work Research Institute at the University, and research assistant Camille Palao.

The survey was drawn from people who were members of online networks and groups associated with the hospitality industry.  It was conducted in late 2019 and early 2020, partly during the exceptional times of COVID-19. However, the findings align with historical issues with work experience in the sector, Williamson said.

Voices From The Front Line is part of an international cluster of researchers running the survey in Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Australia.