More Māori hospitality workers have come forward with stories of racism at work after waitress Mia Griffiths shared her experience at an Auckland Viaduct restaurant.

Mia, 17, spoke out after a customer, dining with building material company James Hardie's leadership team this month, made fun of her Māori ethnicity and pronunciation.

"He said things like, 'Where are your whānau? I bet they don't eat here often, they are at home eating boil-up'.

"I said, 'Actually they eat here quite a lot', but they just laughed even more."


James Hardie has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Herald since Monday.

Wellington-based hospitality worker Littoria Paku, of Ngāi Tahu, said in her six years working in the industry she had been subjected to countless situations similar to Mia's.

While working as a waitress at Wellington's now-closed Wagamama, Paku was serving a table of four Pākehā business people, when they started to take bets on where she was from.

"I have fair-coloured skin, but with Māori features, so I thought I looked like I was from here.

"But they were all saying, 'Oh you must be from the Cook Islands, or Samoa', and I told them, 'No, I was born here'.

"A lady at the table grabbed my arm and said, 'No, you are Tongan'."

Wellington-based hospitality worker Littoria Paku said she had many experiences of racism at work. Photo / Supplied
Wellington-based hospitality worker Littoria Paku said she had many experiences of racism at work. Photo / Supplied

As a young waitress at the time Paku said she did not feel confident enough to call them out. Like Mia, who said she didn't feel she could speak out in the moment, she also tried to minimise it to herself.

"But it does affect you. It is degrading, and makes you feel embarrassed to be Māori, especially when you know who you are and where you come from."


More recently, working as a duty manager at the same restaurant, Paku said customers would regularly walk straight past her and speak to the Pākehā waitress instead.

"She'd them direct them back to me. It happened almost every day. It wears you down."

While Mia's story was not new to Paku, speaking out was.

"I am so proud someone, especially someone so young, is finally speaking out.

"When you are in the heat of the moment you normally let it pass, thinking you might lose your job if you say something."

Paku applauded Mia's bosses, who told the Herald this week they "fully supported" the waitress.


Paku said hospitality staff needed to feel like their managers had their back, and would support them if they ever experienced any form of abuse while working.

"Sometimes the customer is not always right. We do have racism in New Zealand, we need to acknowledge and confront it. It is okay to have a laugh, but not to demean somebody."

Soraya Edwards, 38, of Ngāti Kahu and Ngāpuhi descent, said she had 13 years in the industry and experienced many incidents similar to Mia's.

One time working at a Japanese restaurant customers complained: "Why are there so many Indians working the kitchen?".

Another time after she asked two Pākehā businessmen who entered the restaurant before they opened to leave, one responded "You don't understand I am married to a marry (Māori)."

Hospitality worker Soraya Edwards applauded Mia Griffiths for her bravery. Photo / Supplied
Hospitality worker Soraya Edwards applauded Mia Griffiths for her bravery. Photo / Supplied

Edwards said customers needed to treat wait staff like they would like to be treated at work, and employers put in place policies and training so staff felt safe in their jobs.


She encouraged anybody who needed advice to contact hospitality workers rights group Raise The Bar.

Mia's mother Kiri Turketo said the company James Hardie had invited Mia and the family to meet the man responsible for the racist comments, but they were deciding whether to take up the company's offer.

One of the restaurant owners told the Herald a James Hardie representative had sent them a written apology. They had also worked with the company to identify the man who made the comments and his partner, and they had been banned from the restaurant.

"We are a really multicultural workplace and fully support Mia, that she has a voice on this, and want to do all we can to stand up to everyday racism."

Mia Griffiths said the comments made her feel
Mia Griffiths said the comments made her feel "ashamed". Photo / Supplied

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said he encouraged Mia to lay a complaint.

"It is very important when people are abused they should not feel alone and must speak out and report it. Systemic and structural racism is not on.


"We stand with Mia and her family, and encourage her to be strong and give nothing to racism."