University of Auckland students have alleged widespread experiences of mistreatment and exploitation while working in the hospitality industry.
Two workers, who are past and current employees of a popular Auckland nightclub frequented by students, have spoken to Craccum about their experiences. Both described similar experiences in dealing with management, and reported an all-round negative work environment.
The first student, who worked at the nightclub in her first year of university, said that the club’s manager regularly talked to employees in a way she deemed disrespectful and dismissive. On one occasion, she notified her manager she was sick and he responded by telling her to confirm if she was still sick later, and come into work.
The second employee reported “bullying-type behaviour” within the workplace, issues with receiving pay and in some cases, being charged for minor issues such as broken glasses.
Another student, who works at a different hospitality venue, reported more concerning experiences of mistreatment. This ranged from being undertrained and shifts being regularly understaffed, to verbal abuse by senior management.
“You aren’t given a break, when I started you’d get a five minute break but after a while in my shift (10pm until 6am) I wouldn’t get a break. If I asked they said we weren’t allowed breaks anymore,” says the student.
“Managers don’t know how to talk to their staff in a respectful way. I called in sick once and I was literally hung up on my manager after I said I couldn’t come in – I rang at 11am and my shift wasn’t until 10pm.”
The student also reported that a culture of bullying behaviour was facilitated among staff at the nightclub.
A fourth student, who works at a separate Auckland city nightclub, told Craccum of their experiences with bullying and harassment in the workplace.
“I certainly do not feel safe at work. The bouncers, who are meant to help us if we are being abused by customers, are known as being creepy and I’ve felt harassed by a lot of their comments to me,” the student says. “It’s bad enough dealing with drunk people and the things they say, let alone getting this from the people who are meant to be there to help you.”
The experiences of these four students seem to point to underlying problems with the culture of the industry, and relationships between staff and managers. All four reported at some point felt disrespected by another staff member, usually in an authority position within their workplace.
These allegations come at a time when the industry is increasingly feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses have reported a shortage of workers due to the sector’s reliance on migrant workers to fill many positions, and many have reported an economic downturn since the onset of COVID-19.
This year, a new non-profit mental health organisation was established that aims at providing education and support for hospitality workers. ‘From the Pass’ has already raised at least $40,000 through fundraising, and is currently organising more fundraising events to assist in its launch. A description from one of their online fundraising page states that they aim at “creating a positive and encouraging workplace, through education, compassion, and awareness”.
Other initiatives have aimed at addressing some of the issues within the hospitality industry. The Restaurant Association of New Zealand makes a number of resources available to members and non-members around topics from day-to-day hospitality to workplace health and safety and mental health.
Data from the Restaurant Association of New Zealand shows that in 2018, more than 17,000 hospitality businesses were operating, with increasing numbers of new businesses being opened in centres like Auckland and Christchurch. As New Zealanders and the hospitality industry grapple with the effects of COVID-19, taking action to address issues of bullying, harassment and workplace relations is likely to become even more important to those working in the sector.