Unite Union makes headway in talks with Restaurant Brands

Unite members hadn't held a strike at Restaurant Brands stores since 2006.

Unite Union is still negotiating with Restaurant Brands New Zealand after the union's members, who account for about half the fast food operator's local workforce, went on strike for the first time in a decade.

Last month Unite members took industrial action after talks broke down with Restaurant Brands, picketing KFC stores in Auckland, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin during a Saturday lunch time. The parties are at odds over pay and conditions and Unite national secretary Gerard Hehir says they've made some progress after meeting several times over the last couple of weeks.

"We're just finalising some specific points at the moment," Hehir told BusinessDesk. "We're getting to the point where we sort it out and get an agreement, or we look at other options."

Restaurant Brands employed 3,422 across its 170 New Zealand stores operating under the KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks Coffee and Carl's Jr brands at Feb. 27, according to its annual report published today. That's up from 3,363 staff at 173 stores at the end of the 2016 year, but down from the 3,912 workers at 181 stores in 2015.

Unite members hadn't held a strike at Restaurant Brands stores since 2006, with the fast food operator generally seen as a leading employment in the fast-food sector by being the first to sign a collective agreement, ditch youth rates, reward staff loyalty with a stepped pay hike, and move to a fixed-shift system after the zero hours change.

Restaurant Brands touted that pedigree as an employer in the annual report without noting the negotiations with the union. It also reiterated rising labour costs squeezed margins as the company's wage bill rose 25 percent to $130.7 million in the year, lagging behind a 28 percent increase in revenue to $497.2 million. The company's wage bill equated to 26.3 percent of revenue in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27, down from 26.9 percent a year earlier.

The company's senior management pay rose to $5.1 million from $2.8 million a year earlier, including a $1.5 million bonus for chief executive Russel Creedy from his long-term incentive scheme and the addition of Restaurant Brands' new Australian executive team.

The number of staff earning more than $100,000 rose to 43 from 33 in 2016, and Restaurant Brands' highest paid employee, presumably Creedy, received between $2.44 million and $2.45 million, up from a band of $1.01 million-to-$1.02 million in 2016.

Restaurant Brands shares rose 1.3 percent to $5.69 today, having gained 11 percent so far this year.