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March 23, 2015 | by  | in News |
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One Big Mac, hold the zero-hour contracts please

Service and food workers union Unite has called for an end to zero-hour contracts with a recent series of protests in Wellington. The union, which represents fast food workers at McDonalds, Burger King and other restaurant chains is hoping to renegotiate the use of these contracts in conjunction with  discussions over workers’ pay.

Zero-hour contracts give an employer full discretion over their employees’ hours, without guaranteeing workers a minimum number of hours. In practice, this means employees can be rostered anywhere from zero to 60 hours a week with little or no stability of income.

Unite’s Wellington team leader Heleyni Pratley has pointed to the unfair nature of  zero-hour contracts and said that the contracts make life unstable for workers. “You don’t know what hours you’ll be given or what your schedule will be. This makes it difficult to meet financial commitments, studies and family obligations.”

She argued that contracts affect students in particular, many of whom work in the fast food industry. “Students have rent and food commitments just like everyone else, there is no reason why we have to have these contracts—apart from the fact that it benefits the bosses of the café or McDonald’s.”

Unite’s concern over zero-hour contracts is not strictly limited to Wellington, with workers at a South Dunedin Wendy’s chain protesting last week in an attempt to pressure owners to provide more financial guarantees for employees.

However, Katrine Munro, a Wellington student who works at the Basin Reserve McDonald’s, does not share Unite’s sentiments. She said she has had no major issues with her zero-hour contract.

“[Zero-hour contracts] can be a pain in the arse during holidays. Having said that, my work is quite consistent with the amount of hours I get during university.”

She says she can “change to get more or less hours when I need to” and said that although “there are teething problems when the semester starts, generally too many hours… they are open and do listen when I point that out. Having no shifts in any week is incredibly rare, it’s only happened one during my sixish months there.”

Unite says that its protests have successfully increased awareness surrounding the needs of fast food workers who are made vulnerable under zero-hour contracts.

Employees under zero-hour agreements are classed as having “insecure work”, with socioeconomic groups including young people, Māori, Pasifika, immigrants and disabled workers more frequently affected by a lack of contractual guarantees than others, according to journalist Max Rashbrooke.

Rashbrooke claims that insecure work is also spreading to “areas where once it was relatively rare, including universities and Government departments”. However, a spokesperson for Victoria assured Salient that although the university pays the minimum wage to a small number of library employees, the University does not use zero-hours contracts.

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