Kiwi hospo workers say career offers bad wages, little advancement

It's multitasking to the extreme.
It's multitasking to the extreme. Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Ella Stewart of RNZ

Hospitality workers say the job is no longer a viable career path in New Zealand with low wages, long hours and few incentives.

Cafe and restaurant owners across New Zealand are calling for government help as they struggle with a worker shortage. Some have closed up shop or shortened opening hours. They are asking for urgent visa extensions, border exemptions for critical workers, and extended working hours for student visas.

But many workers spoken to by RNZ say they're barely earning more than minimum wage and if conditions don't improve they will take their skills overseas.

Cameron Major, a restaurant manager in Christchurch who's been working in the industry for the last 11 years, is paid just above minimum wage at $22 an hour.

"In my typical day I'm running TAB, pokies. I'm running the bar, I'm doing stock take, I'm also cooking. We don't have a chef, I am the chef.

It's doing the best to follow the rules and the laws and everything like that. It's multitasking to the extreme.

"It's remembering people's names, so you've got to have a good memory you've got to remember beers, you've got to remember who's sitting where and what time the sports are on and what sound you're going to have to have it on and when the karaoke is on… you know it!

It really isn't something that, for a management position especially, you can't just walk into."

His yearly income is about $45,000 a year, at best.

Wages like this, Major said, meant people don't see hospitality as a viable career path.

"There's simply no incentives, is there an incentive to work 90 percent of the weekends of every year?

"There's no overtime. I think in Australia, I believe on Saturdays and Sundays you get time and a half or double time because it's the weekend and that's when normal people enjoy themselves.

Major has a partner to support him, but he said without her income he would be a bit stuck.

"You have to have two people to live in a house and to have lives together because you can't live on a single wage and especially not a single hospitality wage." He said a rent of $400 a week would about 75 percent of his wage.

Hospitality 'not considered a good career'

Food is Frank Schatz's passion. He has been working as a chef for over 27 years, but he's tired and overworked.

Although late nights and long hours are an expected part of the job, he said the low pay and poor working conditions in New Zealand shouldn't be.

After working in Michelin star restaurants in both New Orleans and New York, he said he has seriously looked at moving overseas again.

"Hospitality over there is regarded as an actual career path, and I've heard from other chefs who have worked overseas in Europe and the UK and everywhere else, it's also pretty similar over there.

"Hospitality in New Zealand is not considered a good career at all, let alone any career."

As a private chef in New York he said he would be paid between $150 and $200 an hour.

Schatz also said Australia would be better than here.

"I know that a head chef working in a pub with the town of like two-and-a-half thousand people gets paid $80,000 a year with accommodation, plus super, plus medical and dental and all that sort of stuff.

"Over in Australia, lot of the restaurant owners are actually trying to incentivise you to work there.

"If things happen, like if you have problems with your mouth and your teeth, or if you've got poor eyesight and stuff like that, then they will help you, if not fully fund for you to get that all fixed."

He said there was already a 'worker shortage' in New Zealand before Covid-19 when borders were open to overseas workers.

"Hospitality in New Zealand in general has been a short-staffed industry because there's just no pay. No one wants to pay for anything - Experience and then costs of ingredients and alcohol - they just keep rising and rising and rising and rising, yet the pay stays the same.

"I know chefs and front of house across the board that we're working 80 to 90 to 100 hours a week because no one wants to work, and that was before Covid-19."

'We just can't find people that want a job'

Reg Hennessy has owned Hennessy's Irish Bar in Rotorua for the past 20 years but he was closed on Monday for the Euro 2020 final - as he is now every Monday - because he can't find enough staff to keep the doors open.

"Normally at Hennessy's this time of the year we have a lot of girls and guys out of places like Ireland and England working for us here on temporary work holiday visas, we've got none of those now there's no immigrants coming in that we're allowed to use, particularly on the chefing side of it.

"We've got no students visas coming through, which we used to get workers out of that, and the government seems to be dogmatically saying no to us and 'get out there and row your own boat and employ New Zealanders'.

"Well if we could employ New Zealanders we would be, but there's no New Zealanders that seem to want to work."

"We just can't seem to find people that want a job. It's as simple as that."

He said payed staff above minimum wage with some of his managers on $25 an hour.

Even if the wages were higher, he said, there would still be a shortage of staff with borders closed.

"What they've got to realise is that, in the hospitality industry, it costs us a lot to operate. These businesses take a lot to run. There're huge rents, huge wage bills, when we've got the staff that we need and so many other costs, we would pay as much as we could afford but it's always about what you can afford.

"We can put the wages up, keep putting them up and up and up but you just got to pay more for your glass of wine or your meal when you go out."

'There's options within the sector'

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said according to their 2020 remuneration survey both Major and Schatz were being paid under the average.

"I think all hospitality businesses, they're obviously costing up their roles based on what they're charging their customers. So, it also depends on the size of the business too .... There are places out there that would pay more than that, and it's a market where people like this individual can certainly be shopping around."

She said, although hospitality isn't the highest paying sector, they do have some roles that can vary from $50,000 a year up to above $100,000.

"Our wages are based on what customers are reasonably paying for within a restaurant… There's a really wide range of different roles within hospitality, and the great thing about hospitality too, is that there is room for movement at the moment and there's options out there within the sector."

Previously in her career Bidois worked as a waitress in the early 2000s and was paid $25 an hour.

"I've had people sort of say to me, 'no you're lying about that, that can't be true' - but it is true and many of the people that I worked with were on that same rate.

"So it really is varied within the industry."

She said the Restaurant Association is developing 'The Future of the Hospitality Roadmap', a framework which sets out how the industry can attracts more Kiwis to hospitality as a career and also pave the way for the sector to be seen as a national leader.

"We are consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, that includes unions, employees in hospitality... as part of that we are reviewing a lot of these questions that are on the table at the moment."