Are local businesses lowering wages as more seasonal workers hit town?

by Lauren Pattemore - May 20, 2024

Queenstown Lakes tourism and hospitality businesses are receiving a higher amount of CVs, but the increase in supply and easier employer market means workers wages have lowered in one instance.

Wānaka's Water Bar has lowered their starting rate for seasonal winter employees compared to what it offered last year.

Manager Laura Staples says they are still paying new staff a few dollars above minimum wage - now at $23.15 - and still more than other bars in town.

Reflecting on the situation in 2023, Ms Staples says the bar had offered higher wages to seasonal workers to "win them over" when it was harder to get staff.

However, this year Ms Staples says she has been receiving 20 to 30 CVs per week - a lot more than last year - and recalls only two CVs coming from Kiwis in the past few weeks.

She says no current employees at the bar have had their rates lowered. 

Crux has approached a number of other Wānaka bars, including Trout Bar, Lake Bar and Lala Bar but did not receive comment before publication. Bullock Bar owner Martin Corbett says he hasn't lowered wages for workers employed this year and his starting wage is $25 an hour. 

But for more skilled workers he'll offer more, he says.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce manager Sharon Fifield hasn't heard of this happening over her side of the hill.

Neither has Southland and Otago Unite union organiser Simon Edmunds, who deals more with collective agreements for Queenstown's larger hotels and chains, although he notes that negotiated payrises haven't been as high this year.

He says this is because the minimum wage only increased two percent year-on-year. 

Prior to this year's wage increase, he notes that the system worked quite well when the minimum wage was going up in reasonable rates.

"They're really trying to screw down wages at the moment...which has caused a huge problem."

However, Mr Edmunds notes there are really good, local employers in town, and he did not want to speak for all them.

"They really do pretty decent wages and I don't want to give the impression that I think all local employers are bad."

Mr Edmunds worries that there will be another worker shortage in Queenstown as a result of changes to the Accredited Employer Working Visa, which Crux reported on last week

Republic Hospitality Group, which owns a number of restaurants and venues in town, says they have not dropped their starting wage for workers employed this winter as opposed to last year. 

A spokesperson for the group says their starting wage is $23.50 or $24 and there are no staff on the minimum wage.

Wai Hospitality Group director Jan Rae also says the business has also not lowered the starting rate across its three venues in the Queenstown CBD. 

When the Yonder manager was asked the same question about lowering staff rates from last year, she said it was not something she could share details of, as it depends on each individual role. 

Know of a hospitality or tourism business lowering their wages as it becomes an employer's market? Send an email to [email protected]

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