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Issue #1922      July 6, 2020

Survey shows insecure hospitality workers devastated by COVID-19

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 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 23rd 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” seventy-eight 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 per cent had to borrow money from friends or family
  • 32 per cent had to access their super
  • 30 per cent had to ask for rent reduction or deferral
  • 20 per cent had to go without essentials
  • 12 per cent had to go to a charity or foodbank
  • 10 per cent had move out of their house
  • 7 per cent 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 per cent were not paid penalty rates
  • 45 per cent were paid below the award minimum
  • 38 per cent were paid cash-in-hand and therefore missed out on other entitlements
  • 37 per cent have unpaid super
  • 35 per cent paid on salary but not paid for the overtime worked
  • 31 per cent 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.

Schofield said,“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.”

Claudia Levi, Queensland-Based Cafe Worker and Hospo Voice Member: said, “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.”


In late 2019 the Fair Work Commission made a majority support determination against Davies Bakery. In effect ordering them to have enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Union.

These negotiations began in late 2019 and continued until the end of February 2020. In March, the company effectively pulled out of bargaining, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as its excuse.

They refused the Union’s efforts to arrange meetings during April and May, so the United Workers Union submitted a good faith bargaining application requesting the company be ordered to resume negotiations.

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