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Hundreds of Kiwis angry over unpaid work

Newshub logoNewshub 16/05/2018 Tom McRae

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In what's being described as unprecedented, hundreds of employees have complained about unpaid work in New Zealand. 

More than 1500 retail workers believe they have missed out on potentially thousands of dollars, dating back years. 

Businesses are now scrambling to change their practices. 

One retail worker, who didn't reveal her name for fear of losing her job, told Newshub she's been deliberately ripped off. 

"The managers have set budgets that they have for wages, so it makes sense to me that they would've done it to save money."

She's worked part-time for the Briscoes Group for five years. After closing, she says she stays 15 minutes to cash up, clean up, and close up. That's an unpaid 15 minutes. 

"I think it adds to the feeling of being under-appreciated because we're already such low-paid workers and obviously a lot of money goes through Briscoes Group that brings in millions of dollars a year, so it seems ridiculous they can't pay us for 15 minutes of work a day." 

The employment court ruled last week that Smiths City had to repay its staff for daily 15 minute pre-work meetings. © Newshub The employment court ruled last week that Smiths City had to repay its staff for daily 15 minute pre-work meetings. At least 1500 other retail employees agree. They've all complained about not being paid for their full working day. 

It all began when the employment court ruled last week that Smiths City had to repay its staff for daily 15-minute pre-work meetings. The court estimated on average a minimum wage worker had missed out on $800 a year.

That ruling has opened the floodgates.

"20 percent of the working population in New Zealand is in retail, and many of them are on minimum wage, so that's why it's particularly important to get this issue resolved in retail because these workers desperately need that money," said Tali Williams of First Union. 

First Union, a national trade union, says the number of complaints has been unprecedented and affects more than a dozen companies. 

"It's just become almost a norm, a practice, that's slipped in. And certainly something we want to put a halt to and get back to people being paid for the hours they work," said Labour Inspectorate Stu Lumsden.

Mr Lumsden won the case against Smiths City and says other companies are now on notice. 

Smiths City is now conducting an audit and will repay any affected workers.

As for the Briscoes Group, for its part, it's listened. It's now changed its rosters and will give back-pay to what it calls a modest number of its staff who have been short-changed. 

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