Rugby World Cup strike risk

By Heather McCracken, Rebecca Lewis

Photo / Sarah Ivey
Photo / Sarah Ivey

Strike action was last night threatening to disrupt the Rugby World Cup, with hotel and restaurant staff demanding a share of the windfall profits.

Experts have predicted the event will pump as much as $1.15 billion into the economy and Unite union national secretary Matt McCarten said workers should share that.

"We don't want to disrupt the games, but we have a job to get some of that wealth and share it around a bit."

Unite represents 3000 employees at the SkyCity chain of hotels and casinos, and large numbers at the Millennium, Copthorne, Kingsgate and Accor hotel chains - plus many other restaurant and accommodation workers around the country.

It has about 5000 members nationwide, representing about 25 per cent of workers in the hospitality industry.

McCarten said there was potential for industrial action during the Cup if employment agreements weren't settled.

"First of all we want to sit down and have a talk - we don't go in and say we'll take industrial action, but certainly we want a share."

McCarten said hospitality industry workers should be paid a minimum of $15 an hour and hotel workers get a cut of room-rate hikes.

The workers earned low wages and would be expected to work long hours and extra days during the tournament.

"They're talking about room rates of up to 10 times what they're charging now, so there will be a lot of money around."

Hospitality Association of New Zealand chief executive Bruce Robertson said he didn't believe a short-term event justified a change in policy.

"It would be unfortunate if this would jeopardise an event as big as the Rugby World Cup," he said. "I think [Matt] is legitimately trying to push up his members' wages, but this is a wonderful event which is on for a very short time."

Robertson said most hotel rooms wouldn't be as pricey as predicted, with some still selling for about $150 a night.

And Tourism Auckland chief executive Graeme Osborne said no one would be making "silly money" from the tournament.

The industry had emerged from a "tough" few years, and the average room rate was about $140 a night, lower than it was five years ago.

"Any employee action needs to be balanced against the fact that this is a seasonal sector who have just come through a pretty tough time," he said.

Auckland Mayor John Banks said he supported workers sharing benefits from the Cup but wouldn't comment on the potential for industrial action during the tournament.

Hotel worker Marion Maera, 52, earned $12.80 an hour as a housekeeper at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, and said she supported Unite's move.

"Some [workers] have been there a really long time and they're only on $13 an hour," she said. "It's not a lot when you're trying to pay the bills and get groceries."

She said the job was hard, physical work and workers were expecting to work longer hours during the Cup.

Rugby New Zealand 2011, the official body running the Cup, would not be drawn into the row.

- Herald on Sunday

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