John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

No payouts for Pizza Hut call centre staff

Fourteen staff sacked, including woman in her 70s

At 74, Nora Scott-Mackie has lost her job  at Pizza Hut. Photo / Doug Sherring
At 74, Nora Scott-Mackie has lost her job at Pizza Hut. Photo / Doug Sherring

A 74-year-old office worker made redundant after 18 years has been told she won't get a payout from her Pizza Hut bosses.

But Nora Scott-Mackie, one of 15 losing their jobs with the closure of the company's call centre, was offered a position cooking pizzas or on the shop floor.

"They said: 'There are other jobs, look on our website. Of course the shops will be looking for people.' But they never elaborated what we'd be doing. I can't see me down in the shop, serving people."

Pizza Hut's parent company, Restaurant Brands, said the closure was due to changing consumer appetites and the rise of the internet.

None of the part-timers had redundancy provisions in their contracts but a union backing them said the case highlighted the need for a fresh debate on redundancy laws. No provisions exist in New Zealand for compulsory severance pay.

Unite union organiser Joe Carolan said many other companies offered it and the union planned a series of protests against Pizza Hut's decision not to offer payouts.

Restaurant Brands, which posted a 23.5 per cent rise in annual profit to $20 million, said it appreciated it was a difficult time for staff.

"We've known many of these staff for a long time and we would offer a four-week notice period, which is three weeks more than we are contractually required to give," a spokeswoman said.

Scott-Mackie's friend, Tuini Whaanga, joined the call centre in 1995. Whaanga said the shutdown proposal, announced last week, was a shock. "It was out of the blue."

She was bemused at suggestions staff take up different jobs in the firm, and said job prospects for those over 65 were slim.

Supporters of mandatory severance pay said it was time to align our severance pay model with other developed economies. But Employment advocate Danny Gelb said compulsory redundancy would increase costs to business "by stealth".

Small Business Voice chief executive Max Whitehead said small and medium-sized enterprises should be exempt from compulsory redundancy pay laws, as in Australia.

He said a mandatory regime would have destroyed small firms during the recession — but said he was "horrified" to hear of staff who had worked at big firms for almost 20 years getting no redundancy pay.

In 2012, Labour MP Darien Fenton introduced a bill for minimum redundancy entitlements. It failed to pass its first reading, but Fenton said there was no reason another MP couldn't pick it up.

"When you're looking at CEOs and what they get, their severance packages are way over the top, so I think a modest proposal like that is entirely fair."

The party's labour spokesman, Andrew Little, said it was insufficient for Pizza Hut to offer alternative jobs. "When you've got long servers losing jobs through no fault of [their] own, there is some sort of obligation to tide somebody over while they go look for other work."

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the current law gave employers, employees and their representatives the flexibility to negotiate.

Pizza Hut customers can now order online or call their local store.

- Herald on Sunday

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