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As the uni year finishes, many students will need to work near-full-time hours to survive during the StudyLink drought. For this, the Wellington hospitality scene is a popular choice. There are usually many positions available in a wide range of different bars, restaurants and cafés, but all come with specific problems. People who work in corporate restaurants are often mistaken for sheepdogs by their clientele, and the staff in bars on Courtenay Place have to witness dance floors filled with regret night after night. However, there seem to be types of staff mistreatment that are common across all types of hospitality.
There are many horror stories that have come from people who have worked in restaurant kitchens, especially regarding head chefs. This is a work environment that creates a very unique kind of stress, but the way that it is taken out on other staff members would not be tolerated in most other professions. While it is obviously not true of all head chefs, it seems to be a systematic feature that working in these environments either attracts or creates a certain type of person. This is the type of person that in heated moments will fling insults or cutlery across the room. More than once, I have heard myself and others being told to ‘just deal with it’ when complaining about treatment by head chefs, and that it’s an inevitable part of restaurant culture. Because the head chef is in a position of power, it is much easier for management to point the blame at staff lower down the chain for taking things to heart. After that, it’s up to staff to smile politely while holding in bitterness, working wonders for their mental health.
To further weaken morale, staff are not paid fairly. For those working in hospitality in New Zealand, the Living Wage only exists in fantasy. There are fables of people in Melbourne getting more than $20 an hour, but it is all unfathomable when thinking of the $15 chunks slowly rolling in. Duty managers hold a lot of responsibility, risking various fines if they step slightly wrong, but even they rarely reach that magic number. To make ends meet, hospitality workers need to work long hours, which, for those working in restaurants, can include the infamous ‘split shift’. This is where you end up working every waking hour of a day, broken up by a break of a few hours where there isn’t enough time to actually go away and do anything productive. Working like this can only make a person tired and deflated, but it wouldn’t have to be that way if wages were higher. Without staff, a café is just a sack of coffee beans existing in a void, so if a business is making profit, it seems that the first place it should go is to them.
To go with this lack of pay is a lack of trust. There is often one person who ruins a workplace for everyone by stealing, after which everyone is always a suspect. It is a common feature in hospitality, especially in the case of bars, for cameras to be equipped that are pointed at staff rather than customers. Zoomed in on tills, it is my experience that these are watched even when nothing has yet gone missing. I have heard this defended by management using the ‘If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear’ mantra, which, if not a direct quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four, definitely represents its vibe. This is coupled with a bureaucracy of having to go through a higher power to do almost anything, under the assumption that staff will jump on any tiny opportunity to screw over their employees. In reality, most staff don’t steal, especially if they are well treated. Even if they are not trusted, employees will rarely resort to theft, but it can only be expected that they will have loss of respect towards management. I understand that businesses need to look after their assets, but it can sometimes be forgotten what the most important asset really is.
All of this can create resentment in employees. The mentality of staff not caring about the businesses they work for isn’t because of selfishness; it’s because they are too often taken for granted. Mistreatment leads to stress and distrust, but also to mistakes, because of course you are more likely to drop a tray when you feel worthless or frustrated. Again, I have to point out that there will be workplaces where these problems don’t exist; but there are so many where they do, which means that these issues are entrenched. These are also only the types of mistreatment I have witnessed personally, but I know from talking to others that there are huge problems with sexual harassment and other types of abuse in hospitality. Although employees shouldn’t have to, the best short-term solution is for issues to be brought up with a trusted manager. It is unfortunate when it takes those who are mistreated to stand up for themselves, but for an industry devoted to hospitality, it is all too common that the staff feel unwelcomed.