New Zealand: Casino workers set to strike

Members of Unite union at SkyCity casino in Auckland. Photo: Unite union.

SkyCity Casino workers in Auckland have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action to force the company to compensate employees for working unsociable hours — which allows the casino to rake in profits at night and on weekends.

Almost 900 of the casino’s employees are members of Unite Union and 94% of them voted to reject the company’s previous offer and 97% voted for strike action.

The strike will commence at 5pm on August 31 and continue until the morning of September 1.

The main union claim is for penalty rates for nights and weekends to reward and encourage staff who are willing and able to work these hours and, crucially, allow others some choice about their work hours.

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The campaign is called “Back to the Weekend” to underline the rights of employees to be able to choose to spend more weekends with family and friends like most other workers.

Lead negotiator and Unite National Secretary Gerard Hehir said: “SkyCity needs most of its workers at weekends and nights and makes most of its income during that time — but prefers to use the ‘stick’ rather than the ‘carrot’ to get staff [to work] at these times.”

Almost all low paid workers at SkyCity are forced onto rotating rosters, irrespective of their personal or family situation. The union has been trying to negotiate more humane rosters for years but SkyCity refuses any extra pay for nights and weekends.

“Apparently incentives are only for very highly-paid executives at SkyCity,” said Hehir.

“Noone disputes that there have to be shifts at weekends and nights. The issue is SkyCity should be encouraging staff who can choose to work those shifts — recognising that not all hours are equal.”

The union has offered concessions on their claim but SkyCity has so far completely rejected any movement on the issue.

SkyCity site convenor Joe Carolan said: “This year the union has fought three restructures forcing workers to work the unpopular night and weekend shifts.

“Workers are sick of the stick and no carrot, especially since many remember weekend and night rates before politicians and companies took those away.

“From nurses to bus drivers to teachers and retail workers, a new generation is ready to strike for their rights.

“If we win this at SkyCity, we say to the government: this is a right that all workers in New Zealand should have again. It is time we undid the damage of the early 1990s and brought back the weekend.”

SkyCity have around 1000 staff at their Adelaide casino in Australia, many of whom will get time and a half, double time and even triple time on occasions, for working unsociable hours.

The union says if it is good enough for the company’s Australian employees, New Zealand employees in Auckland, who generate the vast bulk of company income and profit should also have access to penalty rates.

According to the union, SkyCity made over NZ$144 million in profit this year and recently boasted about having $450 million in the bank.

According the its 2019 Annual Report, SkyCity CEO Graeme Stephens received nearly $2.4 million in short and long-term incentives this year, on top of his $1.5 million salary package. The company’s top 86 executives shared another $4.6million in incentive payments in addition to their salaries.

According to Unite: “It is time to share.”

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