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Hundreds of fast-food workers to strike over fair pay

Friday 21st April 2017

Not-so fast food.

 

Photo: Supplied

Scores of hungry people may have to look beyond KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr. and Starbucks for their lunch tomorrow.

Hundreds of fast food workers, many frustrated about being paid the minimum wage, are walking off the job for a couple of hours at midday. The protest, against the company Restaurant Brands, has been organised by the workers’ union, Unite.

“Yesterday, Restaurant Brands announced profits of $26 million and they have paid their CEO a million dollar bonus. Tomorrow, the workers who actually make and sell their products have to go on strike to get a few cents above the minimum wage,” the union said.

Unite wants a 30 cent per hour pay increase for its lowest paid workers, spread over three years.

The union and Restaurant Brands are locked in a collective bargaining dispute after their previous agreement expired last month. The company said it had already made a “market leading offer”.

“Of the major employers in the fast food sector, Restaurant Brands already leads the sector for fixed hours of work and security of pay,” it said in a statement.

“The overall package of terms and conditions of our employees is better than our competitors in the sector and includes a faster pathway for new employees to increase their pay rates.”

It said part of its offer was to pay entry level positions above the minimum wage.

Nevertheless, Tawera Paapu, 29, will be one of those walking away from the tills tomorrow. She is a shift supervisor at one of KFC’s Auckland stores and has worked for the fast food giant for two years.

Tawera Paapu.
Tawera Paapu will be one of hundreds of fast food workers to strike.

Photo: Supplied

“This is my main job and I take it seriously. I work full-time. Yet I always find myself hard-up for money and living week-to-week,” she said.

“The company is making millions, but we just want everyone off the minimum wage and a bit of fairness. A lot people feel the same way, that’s why we’re going on strike.

“I want to cripple the company’s profits tomorrow so it realises how important this is for us.”

She said she also wanted the public to be aware of the situation as “people don’t realise what happens behind the counter”.

“I have staff who call me because they have problems like their car breaking down or medical bills and they can’t afford to pay them because they’re so hard up.”

The union, which represents about 2000 of the 4000 affected workers, is also protesting what it suggests is a sexist pay system.

“Last year, the company decided to pay cooks an extra $2.50 per hour allowance and the result is that supervisors, who are mostly women, end up being paid $1.80 an hour less than the cooks, who are mostly male, despite supervisors being more qualified and having far more responsibilities.”

The union, which wants the living wage for supervisors, said: “These are not school kids. They are qualified and experienced workers who can run a store on their own.”

It also wants redundancy pay for workers who lose their job through no fault of their own, and elected health and safety reps.

Unite national director Mike Treen said he wanted to “make a bit of noise”.

Fast food workers protest against youth rates in 2005.
Fast food workers protest against youth rates in 2005.

Photo: Supplied

“This is the first shot. We’re trying to bring the company to its senses. We don’t want to get into a protracted war, but we will if we have to.”

He said he did not want to reveal exactly which KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr. and Starbucks stores were striking, or how many workers he expected would walk off the job, to cause maximum disruption.

“I can say it will be difficult for managers to run their operations, particularly during the lunch period… I expect some stores will have to close,” he said.

“There will be a lot of queues… I think a lot of people are going to struggle to get their lunch tomorrow.”

Pickets will be held at six KFC stores - Dominion Road in Auckland, Amohau Street in Rotorua, Rangitikei Street in Palmerston North, Kent Terrace in Wellington, Main South Road in Christchurch and Great King Street in Dunedin.



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A Londoner turned Kiwi who has worked for The Star newspaper, Bleacher Report and RNZ News.
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