Breaking: we’re treating our minimum wage workers like crap

Welcome to the Cheat Sheet, a clickable, shareable, bite-sized FAQ on the news of the moment. Today, are minimum wage workers being exploited and underpaid?

Ahh, the minimum wage. It can be seen to be either a floor to ensure employers don’t try to pay us for our labour with only the smell of success and a sense of purpose for merely having a job, or as a target that employers must meet.

If you’re looking at the minimum wage as a target, you could be one of the employers unmasked this week as blatantly advertising jobs under the minimum wage rate on job boards targeted at backpackers.

That looks bad.

It is bad! New Zealand law provides for a minimum wage of $16.50 an hour. So, you know, the ad for a housekeeper in Otago/Queenstown/Wanaka mentioned in the story above (wonder if these people be rich?) for $15.75 an hour (plus holiday pay you ingrate) seems pretty clear cut. NOT LEGAL.

And what’s this about Briscoes and Hannahs underpaying staff?

Guess who’s getting it in the neck again? Minimum wage workers. It’s been discovered that some retailers (Smith City was the first exposed after a court judgement found they’d not been paying staff for morning meetings) haven’t been paying staff for work done before and/or after shop hours.

It’s pretty common when you work in a store to get paid until the store closes. But that doesn’t mean your day is over (I’ve worked in lots of shops and know this to true). Restocking, tidying up, cashing up – it all takes time. Time that some workers were not being paid for.

That sounds bad.

It is bad! Just because the shop is now closed and the retailer isn’t cranking the cash register doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get paid; it’s still work. Now, for Briscoes and Hannahs to get pinged for this is a big deal. Neither are known for bad business practices – Briscoes MD Rod Duke is practically New Zealand’s patron saint of retail. It’s been reported Briscoes staff have now noticed their shifts have been extended for an extra 15 minutes to cover, yes, their work. That they are employed to do. Amazing.

“Well why didn’t the workers do something?”

A Hannah’s employee says it best: “Because they’re such a big company, and I’m just one person, I feel if I say something I may face repercussions.”

Now what?

Expect this story to grow as more workers realise what’s actually been going on: hours and hours and hours of unpaid labour involuntarily donated to private businesses. I’m pretty sure I’m owed money from my retail days, I’ll put it that way. And unfortunately, employers trying to weasel out of paying the minimum wage is a regular news story, year after year, especially when it comes to seasonal and agricultural workers, so we can expect plenty more of that too.


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