Solidarity across sectors

Last month PSA members and staff were heavily involved in supporting a group of Wellington hospitality workers who had lost their jobs and holiday pay when the restaurant they worked at closed down.

Unions Wellington2

Five Boroughs was a well-known American-style diner. In January, its owners announced it was going into receivership, with staff owed more than $34,000 in holiday pay. To add insult to injury, the same owners reopened a “new” Five Boroughs restaurant just 10 minutes’ walk away.

Staff were desperate to get their entitlements, but didn’t know where to turn for help, as, like most of the hospitality industry, they were not union members. They sought legal advice, but this only told them that the liquidation process was legally sound, and they found themselves in a very precarious situation.

Things looked pretty grim, until Unions Wellington got in contact with them. Unions Wellington is one of a number of cross-union organisations around the country. The different regional groups are active in a variety of ways, but their purpose is to provide inter-union collaboration and support in their area.

Unions Wellington is convened by PSA organiser Ben Peterson, who explains why it didn’t matter to him that the Five Boroughs staff weren’t union members:

“The majority of working people aren’t members of unions, and many workplaces don’t have easy access to unions. This is not just a problem for those staff, but is a problem for working people as a whole. Un-unionised sectors drive wages and conditions down, and undermine the hard won gains in sectors that are unionised.”

According to Ben, it is particularly important that unions look for ways to give young people good union experiences. "Hospitality workers are predominately young people with long lives of work ahead of them,” he says, “and helping to support them and bring them into the union family now will have life-long impact for them, their friends and their future colleagues.”

Ultimately, Unions Wellington was in a position to help, and in principle, unions have an obligation to stand with fellow workers and support wherever we can.

The former staff launched a quick campaign with Unions Wellington support. The staff and Unions Wellington arranged to meet with the former employers together as a group, and got active in the media about how they were being treated.

The resulting negative publicity led to a miraculous change of tone from the employer. Suddenly, customers were coming into the new store to complain about how they had treated their staff. The employers found some money, and staff were paid their holiday pay entitlement by the end of the week. Staff who stayed on in the new restaurant are now talking to Unite Union to explore membership there and to make sure they are protected in the future.

Five Boroughs staff would like to thank PSA staff and members for their support, and promise that next time there’s a dispute, they’ll be there to return the favour!