December 10, 2023

‘They just end up leaving’: New report reveals shocking figures on working conditions in hospitality and tourism sectors

The City Campus at Auckland University of Technology / Te Wai o Horotiu ki te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makaurau.

A new report by AUT has revealed startling figures about working conditions in the hospitality and tourism industries.

The report found nearly a quarter of respondents had experienced bullying and harassment, while about a third had witnessed it.

Pay was a problem too, with more than a quarter saying they didn’t get correct holiday pay, while just four percent belong to unions.

Staffing levels and immigration were also cited as being issues for both industries.

More than a quarter of people surveyed, or 27 percent, said they might quit their job within the next year.

A further 32 percent said they were unsure about staying.

John Crocker, the national secretary for Unite Union, said the figures are high but not surprising.

“There’s a lot of other opportunities out there. Tourism and hospitality really have to match that to be competitive,” Crocker told Newshub.


The report, called He Tangata, asked almost 1000 frontline and managerial staff about their work relationships, pay, and conditions.

The lead author, AUT’s Dr David Williamson said it’s worrying that experienced staff want out just as much as frontline staff.

It found 52 percent of those surveyed have been in the industry for six years or longer.

The main reason for wanting to leave was “the workplace had bad conditions, stress or was a toxic environment,” said Williamson.

Poor pay and a poor work-life balance were also cited.

For many in the industry, the casual nature of the work gives “freedom and flexibility,” but he admitted many respondents felt training or promotions were lacking too.


Twenty nine percent of workers said they didn’t get paid correct holiday pay.

“This is of course disappointing to hear,” said Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand.

Bidois told Newshub that the Restaurant Association supports fair working conditions and provides its members with templates, guidance, and 24/7 employment advice.

Some of the Association’s members say the Holidays Act is difficult to navigate, giving “good reason for this piece of legislation to be reviewed,” Bidois said.

“This is not an excuse by any stretch, but it is a reality.”


Chloe Ann-King, leader at Raise the Bar union, said hospitality mainly consists of smaller businesses, and so it’s one of the least-unionised industries around the motu.

The Employment Contracts Act (1991) “decimated unions,” according to Ann-King, removing compulsory union membership and also bargaining over contracts and disputes.

Only four percent of people surveyed said they belong to a union.

She said she’ll unionise the sector “with my last dying breath.”

Crocker agreed, saying unions were “smashed” in the 90s after the National Party took a hammer to them, but fair pay agreements could change that.


Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said they had experienced bullying or harassment

Worryingly, it was only reported half of the time.

Mental health and addiction issues are common too.

“The other day I had a worker call me in tears because she’s being bullied and sexually harassed by a manager,” said Ann-King.

She said employers must bump up pay and upskill their staff to hold onto them.

“If you’re just thrown on the floor and expected to sink or swim, that’s definitely another massive issue in our industry.”

All of this comes back to a lack of labour inspectors, employment law enforcement, and over-reliance on immigration, she argued.

Staff burnout is a real safety concern too.

“One of our members ended up in hospital because she was working back-to-back 13 or 14 hour shifts without adequate rest and meal breaks due to lack of staff.”

But as young people join, they leave just as quickly.

“These young kids are so bloody excited to be in hospitality. Then they get into it, working insane hours, then they just end up leaving.”

Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they didn’t always get the full rest breaks they were entitled do.

But Bidois argues hospitality employers have done “considerable” work to lift employment standards.

“Whilst salaries have gone up by over eleven percent in the past year, employees are also looking to work in businesses that provide them with fair working conditions and pay.”

The RA has launched new schemes like HospoCred so employers can gain accreditation, and Tautoko Hāpai Ō for workers to get support.

A 2022 A Restaurant Association report showed 85 percent of its business members were training their workers in-house, while 45 percent used external training or professional development.

“Most employers, or 78 percent, are providing free meals,” said Bidois.


Around 135,000 people are now part of the hospitality industry in Aotearoa, up on 2021’s figure.

In October last year, Barcats job platform said hospitality was short 30,000 workers. 

According to Bidois, that figure hasn’t changed as the industry’s seen the lowest growth in staffing numbers in at least ten years, at 0.37 percent.

Eighty percent of the Association’s member businesses say they are not yet fully staffed, and Bidois said many of them have slashed opening hours to not overwork their staff.

Ann-King told Newshub hospitality is “haemorrhaging” the best and brightest veterans – those working in hospitality for at least ten years.

“They’re done trying to carve out any form of career in this industry.”

But Crocker said the high turnover in the industry is partially because “some people like the flexibility.”

Improving conditions and pay, as well as offering more training opportunities will make people stay in the industry, he suggested.

“Young people won’t stick around if they don’t see a future for themselves.”


Ann-King argued the industry has been over-reliant on immigration to plug gaps, predominantly from Asian countries over the past 15 years.

“They cannot continue to rely on migrant workers to continue to fill those vacant jobs. They cannot continue to rely on cheap backpackers either.”

Crocker agreed, telling Newshub migrant workers have been brought in for low-skilled work, often tied to employers, and may not know their rights.

“When you’ve been relying on something for so long and the tap is turned off, you’ll want it back.”

He argued the government was clear that low-skilled migrant labour is not the answer to the sector’s problems.

Those working in hospitality “want an industry that we can be proud of, where locals want to work, and want a career. Getting migrant workers in doesn’t produce that outcome,” Crocker said.

On the other hand, Bidois argued that in the current climate, Aotearoa needs to strike a balance.

“Being able to access the labour needed to run our businesses is imperative to ongoing stability in the industry.”

She said the Association has partnered with the government to “reset the employee pathway and attract more people to our industry.”

Hospitality isn’t the only industry struggling to find staff ‘with a low unemployment rate and the current immigration settings,” said Bidois.


Bidois said the Restaurant Association will work alongside government, iwi, and unions on the ‘Tourism ITF’ (industry transformation plan).

It aims to breathe new life into hospitality and tourism in the wake of Covid-19.

Bidois reckons the Tourism ITF will attract more people to hospitality.

“Immigration policy that fits the needs of our growing industry is instrumental to this.”

Later this year in June, industry bodies and business associations like the Restaurant Association must legally enter into bargaining with unions, under the new Fair Pay Agreements Act.

Ann-King and Crocker are hopeful that it could lead to a lot more workers joining the unions in future.

The full report can be found here.

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