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The Reality of Working in Auckland's Nightclubs

OPINION

Written by Amani Sadique (she/her) | Contributing Writer | @amani.sadique


The nightlife culture of Tāmaki Makaurau can feel continually more ever-present by the second. In a post-covid world, it feels like every weekend there’s another star DJ playing or a banger lineup right around the corner. But what is it like behind the counter? Working in nightclubs may look like an exciting job. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun bartending to good sets with LED lights shining. But what gets hidden about the industry to outsiders is the level of unprofessionalism and how unethical employers can be.


Entering nightclub bartending was a step back in my hospitality career, as I came from working for one of Aotearoa’s largest entertainment companies. I knew what I was getting myself into, but the natural journalist in me was still curious and wanted to witness it first-hand. The summer holidays were just around the corner, so I was keen for some summer fun whilst I had spare time.


To make your way into nightlife, you will likely have to stand out and/or already have industry connections. Nightclubs don’t take applications on sites like Seek, and the industry is notoriously incestuous with staff hiring. I had potential connections, and I went up to the owner of a club one night, showing them the email I had sent asking about bar opportunities. I didn’t stop following up until I got a response.


Finally, the owner organised my first nightclub trial shift. It came to an end, and I had no idea whether I had gotten the job. I asked the manager and - plot twist! - the manager told me “Oh, you weren’t trialling, you were just covering for one of our sick employees! You were great and if I could hire you I would, but we have no vacancies right now.” I was in communication with the club's owner, who put me under the impression that this was a trial. I left feeling puzzled and shocked at how bad their lines of communication were and how immoral this seemed.


I started reaching out to hospitality friends who had connections to other nightclubs, trying to find another job to make ends meet in the summer. I had never visited the club I landed an interview at before applying, but I ended up taking it as it was my only opportunity. 


There were red flags immediately; the manager tried to hit on me over social media during the hiring process, and eventually started offering me shots mid-shift. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of regular drinking, I felt pressured into taking them due to everyone around me taking part, especially when it was people from management offering. More often than not, I was comfortable declining their offers - but it’s easy to be too afraid to say no when the person offering has authority over you.


This may feel unsafe, but at least there are security guards there to keep everyone safe, right? Not always - the bouncers would often be on drugs whilst on shift. I once witnessed a guard dealing drugs to a customer, which is just ironic when their job is to restrict that behaviour. 


Another observation I took from this industry is the lack of individual employment agreements. I found out from a co-worker that the reason behind not providing employees contracts is so they can fire you whenever they like, which explains why the employers seem to be on some kind of power trip. The best case scenario I’ve experienced is getting a contract, but having my name be misspelt. 


Even then, I’ve experienced clubs either putting me down as a different tax code to the one I declared on the IR330 form, or putting my tax code down without asking for it in the first place. This probably meant that they forged my signature and filled out the declaration form on my behalf. 


When I told one of the club’s general managers that I would no longer be available to work Saturdays due to securing a second job, they never replied to the email and instead surprised me with a meeting one night. They claimed they had a policy where staff must work Saturdays, which no one had mentioned to me since I had no contract; but they then offered me my manager’s certificate (if I were to pick working both nights at this club over my new job). 


At first, I felt happy that someone in the industry finally appreciated my experience, but they were incredibly strange about the whole situation: they asked me not to tell anyone about the offer, and they avoided a follow-up meeting where I could ask questions. They claimed the earliest convenience would be five days away, on a Saturday evening. When I asked what time the meeting would be held, they never opened the message. I was just waiting around all evening, unsure if I could go to sleep. 


Union worker, Shanna Reeder, explained to me in an interview that none of this is part of the police’s job, and this is why there are unions in place. “Sadly, it's an area where workers have been treated badly and not received their basic minimum entitlements for a long time and it's something that we have been working to change a little bit at a time. The police are only going to care about the intoxication and violence, they are not going to care about whether the employment laws are being followed.“


But if this has been so widespread for so long, why has no legal action been taken? 


Aotearoa has a small number of Ministry of Business and Innovation labour inspectors, but they cover all industries nationally.  “It is really difficult to get one to take your case. There are so few of them that they take the most serious cases that come across their desk, for example, migrant worker exploitation. They don’t generally take on everyday worker problems.” 


The reason nightclubs consist of so many young workers is because they’re the easiest to exploit - they need this money, and don’t have the resources to fight employer abuse of any sort. It’s worth researching the unions in your area, building comradery between yourself and your coworkers, be switched on, tough and aware of people trying to fuck you around in this industry.


Illustrated by Aiwa Pooamorn | Contributing Illustrator

4 Comments


Guest
Mar 18

Eye opening, from a clearly well informed perspective , good stuff 👍

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Guest
Mar 13

Illuminating Amani. Well done.

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Guest
Mar 12

Extremely educating and well written, well done !!!

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Guest
Mar 12

I love the honesty of this piece- seems like bar staff need a stronger union representation to manage the clear exploitation

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