Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

NZ: Unite Union wins against zero hour contracts

Reading Time: < 1 minutes

By Thiago d’Leones

Zero hour contracts let employers hire workers without guaranteeing of any hours of work. Often this means work at short notice at the boss’ whim.

In New Zealand (NZ), a country of 4.5 million, 100,000’s of workers in the fast-food, cinema, security and cleaning industries were on these contracts. As another form of causalisation, they were associated, in-practice, with cuts to working conditions such as sick leave.

A bold industrial and media campaign by the Unite Union against zero hour contracts struck a public cord and received worldwide support, notably from fast-food workers.

This underlay the backlash against the NZ government’s first draft of the Employment Standards Legislation Bill. It would have legalised the concept, where previously the legality of zero hour contracts was undefined.

Because of public anger against the contracts, junior government parties refused to support it. This forced the government into a redraft that explicitly outlawed the practice. Although far from perfect, the legislation also prohibits being ‘on-call’, cancellation of shifts without compensation, and placing ‘unreasonable’ restrictions on workers having second jobs.

This success shows that change can be forced upon governments when workers organise and campaign. The example provided by the Unite Union is one that should be replicated elsewhere.


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the problems with capitalism. The Socialist strives to explain the systemic causes of this crisis, and reports about the issues that are important to working people. We also help to organise struggles against the powers that be.

We don’t receive a cent from big business or governments. Our work is fully funded by our supporters. Even if half the people who read our website every month donated a few dollars each we would raise thousands to help our work!

We need organisations of struggle now more than ever, so if you support what we do please consider making a donation.

One-off or regular donations can be made securely HERE.