'Tens of thousands' of Wellington workers in trouble after Kaikoura earthquake

By Frances Cook

Bachelor of Commerce student and barista Caleb Potter is stuck competing for jobs against most of his former colleagues from Home cafe.
Bachelor of Commerce student and barista Caleb Potter is stuck competing for jobs against most of his former colleagues from Home cafe.

Closed businesses and evacuated buildings have left possibly thousands of workers in the lurch, following the Kaikoura earthquakes.

Part-time workers, casuals and temps in Wellington have been left unable to get to their jobs, and without a safety net.

Bachelor of Commerce student and barista Caleb Potter is now competing for jobs against most of his former colleagues from Home cafe, thanks to the cordon around Molesworth St.

"They started to reopen the library but then realised that all these light fittings up top need to be replaced, because they came loose in the earthquake and can potentially fall down on customers," he said.

"And all those buildings around us with all our customers - Government buildings - [are] shut down for about a year.

"That's pretty much a quarter to a half of our customers, so they're not expecting it to be that busy when we get back. They're going to cut back a lot of staff because they can't afford to keep us on."

The business has two cafes and a catering company, but all of them have been hit hard by the earthquakes.

"The catering company lost all its orders, because that month everybody decided to cancel their functions. The MBie cafe, these glass panels fell down and made the area unsafe where the tables are for customers."

Potter said he's taking whatever odd jobs he can for now, but he's competing against his former colleagues. He estimates he has about four weeks until rent becomes a problem.

"From the two cafes, basically all of us are looking for new jobs.

I'm just trying to get all these little odd jobs in, whatever I can at the moment."

Unite Union National Secretary Gerard Hehir estimated tens of thousands of casual workers in Wellington alone are now out of work.

"It's huge. A huge number of people just don't have any job security from one week to another.

"And when something like this happens, an earthquake or a major event, that doubly affects them because often their hours go to zero. They're left with no income at all."

Hehir said the issue would affect workers in hotels, hospitality, and even retail stores.

"In the central city particularly, there's a lot of people working in hospitality.

The area around the condemned building at 61 Molesworth St has been cordoned off. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The area around the condemned building at 61 Molesworth St has been cordoned off. Photo / Mark Mitchell



"So it will be tens of thousands of workers. There's also contract workers and different types of work where people don't have guaranteed hours. So there's a lot of workers involved."

Wellington Citizens Advice Bureau manager Mary O'Regan said the centre was already dealing with many people from fast food, cafes, and even Government departments.

"Most Government departments have quite a few people who are employed by temp agencies. And some of them are employed for quite a long time in their roles, and probably should be permanent employees."

She said there's little that can be done for those people on flexible work contracts.

"Our advice to them is to document the impact on them. It's really up to them to negotiate with either the agency or the place where they're employed. But there's no guarantee that's going to work.

"Given the situation in Wellington, in future make sure you have a contract that covers these events. But that's for the future."

- NZ Herald

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