Unite sets sights on holiday pay hijinks

Mike Treen (Joe Carolon/Unite)
Mike Treen (Joe Carolon/Unite)

Unite Union says there is still plenty of work to do following yesterday's news zero-hour contracts will soon be a thing of the past.

The Government turned to Labour for help getting its Employment Standards Bill across the line, after its usual allies the Maori Party and United Future declined to support it. After viewing the final draft of the Bill, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said "zero-hour employment agreements are gone, and working people will be better protected from these kinds of abuse".

Unite won a number of zero-hour battles last year, getting SkyCity, cinema chains Hoyts and Event, and fast-food operators McDonald's and Restaurant Brands to stop using the controversial contracts, which give employees no guarantee of work.

"We essentially named them as zero-hours employers, and everyone understood the term and what it meant," Unite national director Mike Treen told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"I think nearly every family probably had one member of their family -- especially a young person -- who was on a zero-hour contract, because they'd just become ubiquitous."

Mr Treen says although fast-food chains have turned rostering into a science to lower costs, zero-hour contracts were never an "economic necessity".

"[They were] simply a mechanism for rewarding and punishing workers as an easy management tool. I think it led to lazy practises and unnecessary practises."

Mr Treen believes within a year, no more Kiwis will be on zero-hour contracts -- but that doesn't mean Unite's work is done. He says much like staff at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, many Unite members have been short-changed on their holiday pay.

And it's not because the Holidays Act is confusing.

"The one area where we are looking at, the Act is very clear -- it says when you take annual leave, you should pay people the… average of the last four weeks, or the last year," says Mr Treen.

"[Employers are using the lower rate] or not doing the double calculation at all."

Prime Minister John Key yesterday called the amendments to the Employment Standards Bill "minor", but Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse acknowledged it could be seen as a "backdown", comparing it to throwing "a bone at someone to stop barking at cars".