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A major national survey of hospitality workers has revealed how COVID-19 ripped wide open the rotten foundations on which the hospitality industry is built, with the hospitality union vowing to use the Federal Government’s IR Working Group process to fight extreme levels of casualisation.

Hospo Voice, the United Workers Union’s digital union for hospitality workers, has released data today from its nationwide #RebuildHospo Survey with 1158 hospitality workers*. The data shows insecure employment, combined with endemic wage theft, acted as a force-multiplier when the industry collapsed on 23 March 2020.

United Workers Union National President Jo-anne Schofield, who sits on Christian Porter’s IR Working Group on casualisation, says it was a “national disgrace” 78 per cent of hospitality workers are casual, the highest rate for any group of workers (ABS 2019 Data**).

The survey shows workers experienced extreme levels of financial distress when the pandemic forced the industry into shutdown overnight. Hospo Voice says these impacts on workers are directly linked to casualisation: 

  • 35% had to borrow money from friends or family
  • 32% had to access their super
  • 30% had to ask for rent reduction or deferral
  • 20% had to go without essentials
  • 12% had to go to a charity or foodbank
  • 10% had move out of their house
  • 7% suffered a relationship breakdown

The survey also found that when the pandemic struck 47.5 per cent of hospitality workers had less than a month’s savings in the bank to cover rent, food and bills.

A key contributor to the low pay and consequential low savings of hospitality workers is wage theft, with 82 per cent of those surveyed having been affected by wage theft. Workers reported the following examples: 

  • 51% were not paid penalty rates
  • 45% were paid below the award minimum
  • 38% were paid cash in hand and therefore missed out on other entitlements
  • 37% have unpaid super
  • 35% paid on salary but not paid for the overtime worked
  • 31% were not given the tips they received from customers

Over the last three years Hospo Voice helped lift the lid on major wage theft scandals including those with celebrity chefs Shannon Bennett, George Calombaris and Neil Perry. The union warmly welcomed Victoria’s new wage theft laws and vowed to campaign for similar laws from coast to coast.

Comments attributable to Jo-anne Schofield, National President United Workers Union:

“Insecure work is the elephant in the room in the hospitality sector – it supercharges this industry’s other biggest issues, like wage theft and sexual harassment.

“When you’ve got no job security, who’s going to speak up about being ripped off, or a safe respectful workplace?

And of course when something like COVID-19 strikes, if you’re casual it means you can be plunged into poverty overnight – which is exactly what happened for countless workers.

“COVID-19 has torn wide open the rotten foundations on which this industry is built. Now, as the hospitality industry reopens, this is one of the top issues our members want to address. It’s time to rebuild the hospitality industry to be better and fairer.

“Without hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers being stood aside, we would not have been able to cope with the public health crisis. It’s time to repay our debt to these workers so they can avoid further hardship.

“Hospo workers deserve jobs they can count on, and our members are going to fight like hell to make sure the Federal Government tackles this issue head on.”

Comments attributable to Claudia Levi, Queensland-based cafe worker and Hospo Voice member:

“The cafe I worked for had been underpaying me over two and a half years. I missed out on weekend and public holiday rates and I was paid below the legal hourly minimum. I worked out they owed me at least $18,000.

“That wage theft meant that when Covid hit I didn’t have that money to fall back on. You start to realise how much you are owed and how much you missed out on and how hospitality employers have been taking advantage of their staff.

“Covid really opened my eyes to just how insecure all our jobs are in hospitality. With casual employment you have to stay silent about wage theft and about abuse and sexual harassment or you will have no job.

“We need more permanent jobs in the industry, so we have more security and real rights we can enforce.”



*Hospo Voice’s #RebuildHospo Survey was conducted online with 1158  hospitality workers across Australia in early June, 2020.

**2019 ABS figures show 77.9% of ‘hospitality workers’ are casuals.[email protected]/Previousproducts/B01ACCD5C5C23B22CA2575DF002DA5AA?opendocument


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