Discover more from The Boil Up
From the dining table to the bargaining table
On fair pay agreements for hospo, egg sandwiches and cup noodles as a snack.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
When the landmark Fair Pay Agreements Bill passed last year it was described as one of the most significant changes to New Zealand’s employment relations landscape for a generation.
Essentially, the aim of these agreements are to create a “floor” of minimum rights – like wages, guaranteed breaks, secure hours, health and safety conditions and staffing levels – for employees in specific industries. In May, hospitality workers took a major step towards gaining a Fair Pay Agreement (FPA) of their own when they were given the green light to begin the process which will eventually see hospitality workers and employers collectively bargain for a new set of industry-wide minimum pay and conditions.
Since the introduction of the bill in March last year, FPAs have been applauded by unions, which believe they will improve conditions for workers. They’ve not found favour among employer associations, however, which believe they will create additional complexity and cost in the industry. I caught up with Unite Union national secretary John Crocker, who is leading the hospitality FPA process, to see how things are ticking along.
This week has seen the bargaining sides for both hospitality employers and employees formalised. Who makes up the two bargaining sides?
There are three unions involved, E Tū, Raise the Bar and Unite Union, on the employee side. The employer bargaining party is composed of nine industry groups including the Restaurant Association, Hospitality New Zealand, Clubs New Zealand and Retail New Zealand Incorporated. Now that the sides are formed we can start calling meetings.
What kind of work has been going on over the last few months since you were given the green light to begin the process?
Over the last few months we’ve been reaching out to employers, notifying them of the FPA process, and unless their employees opt out, they’ve sent us their workers’ contact details so they can be involved in the process.
How many contact details have you received so far?
We’ve notified around 25,000 employees and about 150,000 workers and so far we've received more than 6,000 workers’ contact details. The last day employers have to send their employees’ contact details to us is the 13th of September. We've had some good responses from employers. But some employers have actively tried to block their workers from being involved in the process by miscommunicating or pressuring them to opt out. I imagine we’ll end up in the mid tens of thousands in terms of contact details.
Right, so the next step is actually getting these hospo workers together for meetings to discuss the conditions – what happens if people are rostered on to work during those meetings?
It's tricky. Workers are entitled to attend two hours of paid meetings for the claims so hopefully, they'll have several opportunities to attend a meeting. A lot of the time we’ll be running the meetings back to back so some workers can go to the first lot and some workers can go to the second lot – and some workers aren't going to be interested. Obviously we can't pull 100% of workers out all at once but there is expectation that employers will allow their workers to attend these meetings.
What’s the aim of these meetings?
Well, we have to get the claim that we’ll take to the bargaining table with employers sorted –that's the big aim. Obviously, we'll give people a chance to join the union and we'll be looking out for any leaders among the workers who want to be part of the bargaining team.
There’s an obligation within the legislation to have Māori hospo workers represented within the process. How will that work in practice?
So two of the online webinars will be specifically for Māori workers. We're going to get some demographic information from our survey and as part of that we can segment the data so we can find out what Māori workers want specifically. Our union doesn't historically have a problem with Māori representation on bargaining teams and I don't think we would, but if we noticed one, we will take steps to correct that.
It’s been a long and at some points drawn out process so far. Will it be possible to get your agreement through before the election?
No, definitely not. We were optimistic when we initiated in December, but we got caught up for six months talking about what kinds of workers would be included in the coverage.
National has committed to getting rid of Fair Pay Agreements if they’re able to form a government after the election. Do you believe they actually will?
Yeah, I do.
It’s hard not to think about all the time and work which has already been put into this so far – would getting rid of them this far down the line not spark a lot of push-back?
I think it's a timing thing. If these things were established and people had seen what they'd achieved there would likely be a lot of pushback. But because they're in such a nascent stage, and they haven't had a chance to deliver anything to the workers yet, you kind of have to explain the opportunity to workers, rather than them having seen what they can deliver.
Is there a sense of urgency that comes with not knowing where this could all end up after the election?
Absolutely. So we're running our claims meetings before the elections so we can find out what workers want while we have that opportunity to speak to those workers. Workers ask us, “what does this mean?” And we tell them, if these guys get in, they're going to tear it all down, if the current government maintains, then you'll have a shot.
Do you have any inkling about the kinds of issues that workers might discuss at those meetings, and that might become part of the claim?
Yep. So we've got thousands of our own members who we've been speaking to for a long time. There are some things which will be mandatory to discuss and agree upon, like an overtime rate. But then there are the things that we've heard have been problems in the industry for a long time. My favourite one would be finishing times of rosters. In our view that's required, but it's not standard practice in the industry. Another one is health and safety issues, particularly around bullying, harassment, sexual harassment. And people not getting their breaks is a big issue as well. It's important for workers to come along to these meetings or fill out a survey or get engaged in the process in some way. It's their terms and conditions and we want to hear from them.
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The weekly snack
Suimin instant noodle bowl coconut chicken (tom ka gai), $2.80 from Countdown: For the second time this month, I feel I’m pushing the boundaries of what could be considered a snack. Can a bowl of instant noodles claim to be a snack? Yes, but it’s contextual, depending largely on when and how you’re eating them. To my mind, as long as your instant noodles are unadorned (by this, I mean no fried egg or fresh herbs) and eaten in between meals, you’re snacking. So here I am, talking about a bowl of instant noodles from the supermarket. I bought these at the peak of a desperate craving for Thai food after getting my wisdom teeth removed. You can’t chew, or eat spicy food, or rice, so the real deal was out the window. These Australian-made noodles from the supermarket seemed like the next best thing, but because I ordinarily buy Korean (the pinnacle) instant ramen brands, I did wonder how these would stack up in comparison. I’m happy to report they weren’t bad. Yes, the noodles were limp compared to the much bouncier ones I’m used to, but the bowl was well-rounded in the taste department: rich in coconut, salty, slightly spicy, a touch of lemongrass and a little sour. Without any hint of galangal, these didn’t quite read as tom ka gai, as promised on the package, but they were nice enough for me to look past a little inauthenticity. (Note: these also come with a sachet of freeze-dried vegetables which I didn’t add.) 7/10.
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte