SkyCity Auckland casino workers go on strike demanding a living wage

Posted: August 29, 2022, 7:19 a.m.

Last update on: August 29, 2022, 07:19h.

It was a slow financial year for New Zealand casino operator SkyCity Entertainment. Yet workers at its Auckland casino are demanding more pay and went on strike over the weekend to get it.

SkyCity Auckland workers strike
SkyCity Auckland workers are striking outside the casino this weekend. The casino and the Unite union are fighting to agree on future salaries. (Picture: stuff)

SkyCity has struggled to gain traction following the COVID-19 pandemic. In its last financial year, it incurred a loss of NZ$33.6 million (US$20.88 million). However, the employees believe that this does not excuse it from better remunerating them.

A group of around 60 workers staged a short strike over the weekend. It was a preemptive volley of what was to come if SkyCity did not respond and meet the workers’ demand for a decent wage.

living in poverty

The living wage movement is happening in countries all over the world. More and more people are complaining that companies don’t offer salaries that cover even basic necessities.

In New Zealand, the initiative gained support; from next month, the living wage will be NZ$23.65 (US$14.44) an hour. SkyCity and the Unite workers’ union are negotiating new pay rates, but they don’t come close to a living wage. Currently, the official minimum wage in New Zealand is $21.20 (US$12.95).

As a result, the union expects 90% of Auckland’s casino workforce to receive below-average wages. SkyCity is ready to give them salary increases of 4 to 6%; however, the inflation rate in New Zealand is 7.3%.

This hotel employer is the only major employer in the industry to refuse to pay a living wage. It is also shameful that on the company’s 25th anniversary, employees who started on day one are being paid the same hourly rate as those who have just joined the company for the same work. There is almost no reward for servicesaid Unite Union defender Mike Treen.

Workers picketed the casino for a few hours on Saturday in protest. They launched the strike at 6 p.m. local time and it was over by 8:30 p.m.

This was the plan from the start, as they only wanted to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. However, it was also a hint that unionized employees are ready to launch a broader workers’ strike if SkyCity shows no willingness to negotiate.

Auckland’s casino isn’t the only SkyCity property facing a strike. On the first day of 2022, SkyCity Hamilton employees quit their jobs in protest over wages.

Workers demand change

With the living wage movements, employees are pressuring their employers to offer better wages and benefits without reductions elsewhere. However, they do not expect any change in working hours or terms of employment.

The workers are indifferent to the financial difficulties that SkyCity is going through. Instead of giving shareholders “several billion dollars” in dividends, he should have given them better pay, they argue.

Shareholders will now miss out on dividends due to financial pressure; however, the company said it hopes to resume them next year.

SkyCity and the Unite union are currently negotiating new wage structures. As a result, the company believes the strike may have been counterproductive. However, the two sides are due to meet again next Thursday.

The annual cost of living in Auckland is more expensive than anywhere else in the country. Newshub reports on a study which showed that a family of four needs an annual income of NZ$162,600 (US$99,316) before taxes.

On the table right now, according to a statement from SkyCity, are salary increases ranging from 4% to 13.4%. With this, full-time employees will receive an average annual raise of NZ$1,200 (US$732.84).

With the 7% increase in inflation, the majority of employee salaries fall far short of covering day-to-day expenses. It will be difficult to convince Unite members to reach an agreement with SkyCity until the operator is ready to match this tariff at all levels.

Michael A. Bynum