Working hospo is hard mahi: ‘we get groped, harassed, and spoken to like worthless trash by customers’

Exploitation, wage theft, and harassment, is rife in the New Zealand hospitality industry. So, when I read articles by journalists who care more about the most trivial things like prices not being displayed in cafes, I have to check myself and try not to lose my shit. One such trifling article on the hospo industry recently ran on The Spinoff, and here is my right of reply because perspective, matters:

Kia ora Kerryanne

I read your short article on the lack of pricing in some cafes and restaurants and how annoying it is for you. I get it: If you have never worked hospo long-term then perhaps such a thing could be very upsetting for you. In response to your article I thought I’d lay out some real and more pressing issues within this industry that are a bit more important than a lack of visible pricing…

First up I am a well known workers rights activist who has 14-years coalface experience in the hospitality industry. Throughout my time working in hospo I’ve witnessed exploitation and illegal behaviour at the hands of my employers. In response I began advocating for hospo workers and fighting for our rights. As such I’ve got license to call bullshit on some of the stuff you wrote such as, ‘I asked a waiter the other day if there was a reason behind it (lack of visible prices) and he said he’d never really thought about it. This seems unlikely to me’.

I can assure you it’s very likely the waiter you spoke with hadn’t overly thought about the lack of visible pricing – he wasn’t lying to you. I always find it gobsmacking that us hospo workers serve journalists, such as yourself, your barista level coffee each morning and pour your pints and glasses of vino during your Friday drinks, yet, mostly y’all know so little about our lives and working conditions. Exploitation is happening right in front of your eyes but few seem to notice this.

Let me break down my industry for you: hospo is often gruelling, underpaid, and humiliating mahi. More often than not our employers pay us minimum wage or just above or sometimes less – which breaches employment law. Our industry is unregulated and we have no Union and the MBIE and ERA do little, to nothing, to enforce employment law in hospo. Which means we face these grave injustices, alone.

We are rarely guaranteed shifts and employers will chop and change our shifts/hours with no notice or good faith negotiating which breaches the zero hours act. This type of shift precarity means we can’t budget because we never know what our pay-check will be week to week. All of this is exhausting and creates something which I’ve come to label ‘chronic precarity fatigue’. Loosely what this means is that workers such as me are constantly exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically because of flexible wages, no guarantee of a job or shifts, and often our workplaces are dangerous and unsafe (more on this soon). On top of this we work long and hard shifts while being paid fuckall to smile at rude customers and work at inhuman speeds while multitasking like no one’s business. To add insult to injury we often end up having to grudgingly apologise to people like you when they bemoan dumbshit like prices not being displayed. Spare me.

What compounds all of this is that we get groped, harassed, and spoken to like worthless trash by customers and sometimes our employers. Hospo Voice which is a Melbourne based hospo union, released a survey which said 89% of all female hospo workers in Victoria, have been sexually harassed on shift. I recently had a collective meeting with Auckland based hospo workers who painted a bleak picture of our industry which included rife wage theft and dangerous working conditions which should be considered a national shame. The number one concern that wahine hospo workers’ had who attended the meeting was sexual harassment on the job. They told me horror story after horror story of customers groping and objectifying them with hyper sexualised comments about their bodies. I’ve personally been outright sexually assaulted on shift on multiple occasions. I still have flashbacks to when I was pushed into a toilet cubicle by a customer who then jammed his tongue down my throat and forcefully felt me up. I’ve previously written about harassment in the industry and vocally called for hospo workers to join the #MeToo Movement.

Traumatising incidents within our industry are almost a give-in if you work hospo for long enough.

That waiter you spoke to probably hadn’t given much thought to food and drink items having no visible pricing because he’s likely more worried about how he’s ganna pay rent and survive rising living costs. Frankly, we don’t have time for some random customers pet peeve. We have bigger things to worry about like how we can avoid being violently assaulted on shift.

In your article you also wrote, ‘This may seem like a dull and grinchy thing to write about, but 2018 has become the year of no prices in cafes and I want it to stop. If I don’t want your $18 salad, it’s less embarrassing for both of us if we don’t have to talk about it.’

It is not so much a ‘dull and grinchy thing to write about’ more that your position is lacking in empathy or any real understanding of how our industry does, or more precisely, doesn’t work; $18 bucks for a salad isn’t that bad depending on what’s in it. People want cheap food with amazing service but rarely understand the amount of labour that goes into making said food. From the sous chef who preps, to the chef who cooks/makes finishes the meal, and the waiter who serves you, to the dishy who scrubs your dishes, there is so much more that goes into hospo than what people could ever, imagine. Maybe it is time journalists actually talk to us, not at us.

To finish I’d like to ask everyone in Aotearoa, to show more respect towards hospitality workers. We aren’t your slaves. We don’t deserve your abuse or rudeness. We are highly skilled workers and if you disagree, have a go on a barista level coffee machine and see how you go. You have no right to touch our bodies or comment on them. We deserve so much more than the poverty wages afforded us. We deserve at bare minimum a living wage. No one should work this hard in such dangerous conditions and be poor at the same time.


Thank you for taking the time to read my writing! All my advocacy work in hospitality in funded by my patreon and community donations without this support I’d be unable to do what I do. So if you think the mahi I do matters and you’d like to support me economically there are three ways to go about this: