Now’s the time to fix long-standing hospo industry failings: expert

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Opinion

The hospitality sector must improve its poor employment record if it is to be considered a sustainable industry, says an AUT researcher whose survey of workers found a disturbing record of abuse, illegal pay, high turnover and lack of training.

The survey of 400 hospitality workers is the first of its kind in New Zealand and part of a global study of hospitality working conditions.

Headline results for New Zealand include:

  • 18% of workers were paid below the minimum wage
  • 22% received no holiday pay
  • 16% of workers didn’t sign an employment agreement
  • 81% received no training

    David Williamson: a moment to build back better

  • 49% report abuse in the workplace.

Senior lecturer at AUT Schol of Hospitality and Tourism, David Williamson, says the results are not surprising – but they are disturbing.

“It’s shocking that such a high proportion of employers are not even meeting the minimum statutory requirements. This industry still has the highest turnover rate and the lowest hourly pay rate out of any sector in the economy. In addition, it has high levels of abuse, poor levels of training, and gaps in statutory requirements such as holiday pay,” says Williamson.

The former restauranteur-turned-academic conducted the survey in 2020 and presented the findings recently to a tourism taskforce looking into post-Covid recovery.

He says while few industry observers are surprised, it’s the first time hard data has been presented to government and business leaders.

“No one wants this – there’s broad acceptance we must improve. Everybody who’s passionate about hospitality and tourism wants us to have a sustainable, successful, high-productivity sector. But this data shows a significant minority aren’t looking after their staff properly. And that’s like a giant anchor holding us back.”

Source: David Williamson, AUT University

Williamson says the time is right for a reset on the way the industry runs.

“Covid-19 has been a massive disruption to the industry. The government, employers and employees are all looking at each other going, ‘how do we rebuild and how can we not repeat the mistakes of the past?’ I suggest that addressing some of these problems is a really good place to start.”

The global survey shows New Zealand is comparable with other countries in its treatment of hospo workers. This could be is an opportunity for New Zealand’s brand, he says.

“This could be a fantastic counter-narrative. You go anywhere in the developed world and ask ‘what sort of work do you think hospitality and tourism workers do?’ People will say, it’s part-time, not well paid, hard and dirty, and so on. Imagine if we could say that in New Zealand we’re working towards sustainability, looking after our staff and developing our people and their careers.”

Williamson says employment practices need the same level of certification and branding as environmental and food safety standards receive.

“You get an A rating for safety and an EnviroMark for being green. What about a rating for being a living wage employer? Or for other employment initiatives that go above and beyond the legal requirements?”

Improving employment relations might address another longstanding issue – the lack of career options for young people. Williamson says the sector is notorious for failing to attract top talent.

“People don’t view hospitality as a career because they see these terrible conditions and come to their own conclusions. We’d love to see talented young people coming through the Hospitality and Tourism School and having long-term careers that might be chefs or waiters but could also be in running hotels, getting into logistics, doing HR, marketing, research, IT and all the services that support the industry. The hospitality sector could be so much more vibrant and attractive.”

Listen to David Williamson speak to Vincent on our Long Lunch podcast. 

About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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