SkyCity Auckland Casino Workers Strike in Push for Living Wage

Posted on: August 29, 2022, 07:19h. 

Last updated on: August 29, 2022, 01:46h.

It’s been a slow year financially for New Zealand-based casino operator SkyCity Entertainment. Still, workers at its Auckland casino are demanding more pay and launched a strike over the weekend to get it.

SkyCity Auckland workers strike
SkyCity Auckland workers strike outside the casino over the weekend. The casino and the Unite union are fighting over future wages. (Image: Stuff)

SkyCity has had difficulty gaining traction following the COVID-19 pandemic. During its most recent fiscal year, it took a loss of NZ$33.6 million (US$20.88 million). Employees, however, believe this doesn’t excuse it from paying them better.

A group of around 60 workers staged a short strike over the weekend. It was a preemptive volley of what’s to come if SkyCity fails to react and meet workers’ demands for a living wage.

Living in Poverty

The Living Wage movement is occurring in countries around the world, with more people complaining that businesses don’t offer wages that cover basic necessities.

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

As a result, the union expects as much as 90% of the Auckland casino workforce will receive subpar salaries. SkyCity is willing to give them pay raises of between 4% and 6%, which is less than New Zealand’s inflation rate of 7.3%.

This hotel employer is the only major one in the industry refusing to pay a living wage. It is also disgraceful that on the company’s 25th anniversary, staff who started on day one are paid the same hourly rate as those just starting at the company for the same job. There are almost zero rewards for service,” said Unite Union advocate Mike Treen.

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

That was the plan all along, as they only wanted to emphasize the severity of the situation. It was also a hint that the union employees are ready to launch a larger workers’ strike if SkyCity doesn’t show any willingness to negotiate.

The Auckland casino isn’t the only SkyCity property to deal with a strike. On Jan. 1, 2022, SkyCity Hamilton employees walked off their jobs in protest over wages.

Workers Demand Change

With the Living Wage movements, employees are pressuring their employers to offer better pay and benefits without cuts elsewhere. They expect no change to working hours or employment conditions.

The workers are indifferent to the financial troubles SkyCity is experiencing. Instead of giving shareholders “several billion dollars” in dividends, it should have been giving them better pay, they assert.

Shareholders will miss out on dividends now because of the financial strain. The company says it hopes to resume them next year.

SkyCity and the Unite union are currently negotiating new pay structures. As a result, the company believes the strike may have been counterproductive. Both sides are to meet again this coming Thursday.

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

Currently on the table, according to a SkyCity statement, are pay increases that range from 4% to 13.4%. With that, full-time employees will receive an average annual increase of NZ$1,200 (US$732.84).

With the 7% increase in inflation, the majority of employees’ wages don’t come close to covering daily expenses. It’s going to be difficult to convince Unite members to reach an agreement with SkyCity until the operator is ready to match that rate across the board.