Casino workers play the wild card

How do you take on a powerful company when over a third of the staff are not in the union? Laurie Garnet finds union members at Auckland’s SkyCity casino are coming up with creative solutions.

SkyCity casino is on course to make $110 million profit this year. So when the company offered a 4% increase to staff, with new staff starting on the minimum wage of $12 an hour, it was flatly rejected by union members.

There are two unions at the casino – SEA-Unite with nearly 1000 members, and the Service and Food Workers Union with around 300 members. They wanted a 5% increase and recognition of service for longer serving staff. They voted to take strike action and to keep up the fight up for the next six months if necessary.

Barely had the vote been counted (97% rejecting the company offer) when workers started walking off the job.

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Westfield bans union organiser from mall

Auckland Unite Union organiser and Workers Party member Jared Phillips talks to The Spark.

What’s the background to this trespass?

Unite union has begun a campaign to get a new set of union agreements in the cinema chains, and to continue re-unionising that industry. The offer from Skycity Cinemas, which is a large chain, was appalling. If we agreed with the company offer, the supervisors, projectionists and gold class staff would dramatically lose their wage relativity against the minimum wage. Of equal importance, the cinema attendants, who are the majority of staff, would get no service pay and no improvements to their security of work.

A trespass order was issued against me during the St. Lukes strike, which was the second strike in the campaign. The trespass was issued by Westfield St. Lukes, which is the firm that operates that mall and many malls in which Skycity Cinemas operates complexes.

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Upbeat strike at Auckland Airport

foodcourt workers on strikeTwo dozen workers at Auckland Airport’s foodcourt staged a lightening strike on Saturday 7 June, in protest at medieval working conditions. The strikers marched through the foodcourt calling for their rights and were applauded by the public.

Employers and security tried unsuccessfully to silence the upbeat strikers.

The company is a joint venture between HMSC, a mega-corporation with businesses around the world, and Auckland International Airport.

Mike Treen of Unite Union said the workers had the worst employment contract the union had come across.

The workers have a start time but no finish time. They may work for one hour or for 10 hours at the whim of the company. Unite has succeeded in getting breaks established for staff, who earlier were working up to 7 hours with no breaks. Most are on the minimum wage or slightly above and have no security of hours. Some have worked 38 to 40 hours a week for several years but are denied permanent positions. The strikers are calling for a pay increase, security of hours for long serving staff and improved breaks.

Who got the new minimum wage rise?

– Jared Phillips

The Council of Trade Unions and various individual unions have put out statements regarding the April 1 2008 minimum wage rise to $12 and the abolition of youth rates for most young workers.

CTU secretary Carol Beaumont said:

Twelve dollars an hour is a commitment that this Labour-led government made with the Greens and New Zealand First, and it has now fully delivered on it. And with the abolition of youth rates from April 1 also, 16- and 17-year-olds will see their minimum wage rise from $9 to $12 after 200 hours or 3 months, whichever is sooner.

Unite union led the campaign for these changes. It was demanding $12 in 2005. This demand was also coupled with the sentiment ‘2008 is far too late’.

However, the recent increase to $12 is attributable to the large SupersizeMyPay campaign led by Unite, which picked up on wage discontent amongst low-paid workers and young workers.

The abolition of youth rates was even more clearly driven by Unite plus groups of young workers, adult workers, revolutionaries, leftists, and social democrats to the left of Labour. Unite hit the youth employers, Unite and students organised by radical youth hit the public, and then, with the NDU, Unite hit and manipulated the government. That is the history of the struggle against youth rates, which have yet to be finally eradicated.

This mass organising movement was the real force behind the most dramatic pack of successive minimum wage increases in decades. Unite is now successfully organising to get workers off minimum wage, and has just signed up more than 1000 new members in KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks stores.