On May 11th, 2018, the Employment Relations Court dropped a major bombshell on the bosses by ordering Smiths City, a major New Zealand furniture and appliance store, to pay workers for their attendance of daily meetings held before the stores opened. According to Chief Judge Christina Inglis: "The expectation to attend, and pressure placed on staff to do so, was direct and forceful. The practical reality for sales staff was that to satisfy this expectation, and so as not to be seen as poor performers, they had to attend."
Smiths City bosses claimed that these meetings were voluntary and staff were not penalised in any way for not attending such meetings but the Labour Inspectorate National Manager Stu Lumsden remarked that workers need to be paid when they are doing employment related activities outside of their normal working hours. As he put it so bluntly in a comment to Radio New Zealand on May 16th: "This is simply about these businesses complying with their obligations – as the vast majority of New Zealand businesses do – and paying their staff at least the minimum wage for every hour worked."
Paying workers for attending daily pre-work meetings might not seem like much but when one does the maths it adds up. The minimum wage per hour in New Zealand is $16.50 (at the time of the judgement). On average a minimum wage worker was being screwed out of $20.63 a week. Calculated over a year that comes to $1072.76 a year (₤560.04 or €641.16)!
Since the court ruling was made the First Union, which represents many of the workers in the retail sector, have stated that many hundreds of complaints have been received from workers in many other retail outlets and other work places. They have complained about being compelled to attend work related activities, such as meetings, without being compensated.
However the ramifications of the court ruling could have far reaching consequences in other sectors, particularly those jobs where people have to do a lot of preparation work outside of working hours. This is particularly true of teachers, care givers and social workers.
We demand that workers who do any work related activities outside of their normal working hours should be paid as if they were on the job, regardless of what the job is.