Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This Is the Kind of Thing That Makes Me Angry

Stuff reports that Restaurant Brands, which controls the Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut outlets in New Zealand, has no plans to pay Christchurch workers for their rostered hours for Monday 15 August when snow prevented business operation. Neither were they paid when a similar situation occurred on Monday 25 July. Instead, they will be expected to take a day of annual leave (assuming they are permanent employees and are eligible for it).

So, you're a fast-food worker, paid low wages even by the standards of our low-wage society. You work under difficult conditions and will often not know from week to week exactly when or how many hours you'll work. Most likely, you will occasionally have to perform miracles when faced with a rush period or short staffing. Then, through no fault of your own, you lose maybe 20 percent of your weekly wage because of the weather.

When an act of God like a snow storm makes economic activity stall, everyone is affected. Yet here we see the people with the least buffer against such events being expected to absorb all the consequences.

It's not as if we're talking about small independent businesses that have taken risks to provide employment. This is a large, powerful conglomerate that profits from economies of scale and an industrialised supply chain. Restaurant Brands is perfectly capable of telling all the respective owner-operators or franchise holders that it will absorb the costs of paying the rostered hours of snow-bound employees. In fact, you'd think that anyone with half a functioning public relations department would have done this already.

Such a situation is even more ironic in a community already beaten down by other natural disasters. In February, John Key said that getting Christchurch back on its feet wasn't Christchurch's struggle, it was New Zealand's struggle. I guess such theoretical solidarity didn't include large corporations.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of focus on the largely punitive measures aimed at young people as part of “welfare reform”. The message that is being delivered is clear: lots of responsibility for vulnerable young people; none at all for the rich and powerful.

UPDATE: Restaurant Brands has said it will pay snowed-bound staff after all. A small victory for decency and an indication that public shaming still has some power. Also, congratulations to the likes of Cookie Time who were doing this in the first place.

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