A young mum is fuming after working all day at a Wellington cafe only to be told afterward she wouldn't be getting paid.

Helen Mawhinney, 25, spent $70 on childcare and transport costs to work eight hours at the Wadestown Kitchen cafe last Friday, returning for a full shift after doing a one-hour trial the day before.

The first trial had gone well and she thought she'd got a job out of it, Mawhinney said.

"I celebrated, I went out for KFC and everything."

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But after finishing her second shift on Friday, Mawhinney, who has been working in hospitality for 13 years, was told she would not be getting paid for the day's work.

The single mum to a 2-year-old boy, claims she was not made aware of this beforehand and never would have agreed to it if she'd known.

"The childcare and transport costs certainly wouldn't have made it worth it," she said.

"I can't do this for free."

Mawhinney said she regretted not asking outright if the shift would be paid, but had assumed it would be.

Cafe owner Curtis Gregorash, told the Herald he had made it clear to Mawhinney the shift would not be paid.

"It is false that it was a day of work. The girl was told it was unpaid beforehand," he said.

He did not respond to further questions.

In an email from the cafe seen by the Herald, another manager apologised, saying "I'm really sorry if there was confusion about the day being an unpaid trial".

Mawhinney was offered a permanent job at the cafe after the second shift but turned it down, saying she didn't want to work for someone who didn't pay people for their labour.

"It's too common, that's the other reason why I'm standing up for this," she said.

Mawhinney asked the cafe owner to pay her for the hours she had worked but was refused, so she posted on the Facebook group Vic Deals, telling people her side of the story.

Supporters then left bad reviews on the cafe's Facebook page, saying it did not treat its workers fairly.

The 25-year-old said she was "blown away" by the support, but she hadn't asked anyone to criticise the cafe.

Soon after, bad reviews about Mawhinney's mother's cafe appeared, saying the venue had rats and cockroaches.

A review appeared in Gregorash's name and the Herald asked about it. He did not respond.

Reviews left on Mawhinney's mother's cafe's Facebook page. Photo / Facebook
Reviews left on Mawhinney's mother's cafe's Facebook page. Photo / Facebook

Restaurant Association national president Mike Egan said it was up to the employer to make it clear whether a trial would be paid or not.

"If you're putting people on these auditions it needs to be made very plain and people need to sign something," Egan said.

"It's not up to her to ask, it's up to the employer to make it known."

Eight hours was a long shift for a trial because you could usually tell pretty quickly if someone was up to the job, Egan said.

Smaller owner-operator businesses were less likely to follow good procedure around unpaid trials because they generally weren't as familiar with their responsibilities, Egan said.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBie) employment relations policy manager Jivan Grewal said unpaid trials should be agreed to in writing.

Unpaid trials should also be kept as short as possible.

"The longer a person is being trialled and the more hours they work, the more likely they are to be an employee," he said.

"Whether an unpaid trial is legal comes down to the nature of the relationship between the parties, such as whether a person is seen to be a volunteer or an employee.

"If an employment relationship does exist, then the employee will be entitled to minimum entitlements for the work done."