With all the huffing and puffing of the election out of the way and the right-wing still in ascendancy after 30 years of community-sapping neoliberalism it was a pleasure to attend a strike by workers at Carl’s Jr in Lincoln Road, Henderson on Saturday.
The business had been sold the previous week to Restaurant Brands who now add all Carl’s Jr stores to the KFC, Pizza Hutt and Starbucks brands they already run.
And as with all business sales the workers had no idea what was going on until they received a letter telling them their jobs were terminated with just 10 days’ notice and they would have to reapply to Restaurant Brands to get them back.
This was a breach of the collective agreement the franchisees (Barry Forsgren and former All Black Michael Jones) have with Unite Union which requires four weeks’ notice of redundancy but it’s an abuse of the workers themselves.
On strike at the store (all the workers were out on the street) were several migrant workers alongside New Zealand workers. The locals were especially concerned for their migrant co-workers who depend on having a job to be able to stay in the country.
The exploitation of these migrant workers in particular became clear as the workers told their stories to TV cameras and an embarrassed Barry Forsgren. Unpaid hours of work was a huge issue. One migrant worker told of being paid till 1am but then having to work unpaid cleaning till 4.30am so the store could open later that morning. One local store manager talked of being on a salary of just $34,000 but being expected to work such long hours each week that she was earning less than the minimum wage. (This “salaried” employment is used in many industries to pay workers less than the minimum wage)
Promises of pay rises or pay reviews were made to the workers on a weekly basis but the months dragged on and nothing happened. One worker was told he’d be getting backpay for the three years he’d worked at the store – when he finally got it he received $10!
Migrant workers are particularly open to abuse because their ability to stay in the country depends on their visa which is held by the employer. Lose your job and you lose your right to be here and the chance for a new start in life.
But on Saturday these migrant workers were speaking out alongside their New Zealand co-workers.
With the shop devoid of customers and the threat that his other four stores would join the strike Forsgren was forced to agree to several demands that were put to him:
o Pay all unpaid hours of work
o Pay four weeks redundancy pay in lieu of notice to all the affected workers
o Pay the backpay at the amounts promised
o Ensure all the workers are taken on by Restaurant Brands
Forsgren signed his agreement to these demands for workers to be treated with dignity and respect…
It’s usually the workers on the receiving end from profit-hungry bosses but here the tables were turned by the workers taking direct action and being backed up by their union.
As inequality rises further and New Zealand becomes more divided and polarised it will be workers taking action like this that gets results. Waiting for elections and hoping for change just won’t cut it.
It’s a simple case of Power to the People!