Critical Hospitality Symposium, Critical Hospitality Symposium II: Hospitality IS Society

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The stillborn revolution: women and the hotel workers union, 1960-1995.
David Williamson

Last modified: 2018-07-02


New Zealand has experienced rapid growth and economic success in the hospitality and tourism sectors, yet these sectors exhibit ongoing labour market problems.  These problems include major skills shortages, high labour turnover, low pay, lack of full-time work and poor career path information (Cropp, 2016; Deloitte, 2015; New Zealand Tourism Industry Association, 2015). Research shows that the worst effects of these problems still fall on female workers (Kensbock, Jennings, Bailey, & Patiar, 2013; Kogovsek & Kogovsek, 2015; McIntosh & Harris, 2012; Mooney & Ryan, 2009).  This paper will argue that taking a critical historical employment relations approach can provide insights into some key drivers of contemporary gender inequality in this sector.

This research looks at the Hotel Workers Union and their collective agreement and the impact of these structures on women in the hotel sector from the 1960s to 1995.  The paper will suggest that in the 1960s and 1970s the deeply conservative Hotel Workers Union enforced a collective agreement that disadvantaged women in the workplace, whilst restricting female access to union leadership positions.  The research will show that by the 1980s the older, conservative union leaders were being replaced by more militant members, who demanded women councils and other representative bodies to recognise the actual demographic of the union membership.  However, in the 1990s, just as the union became revitalised, militant and more representative of 70% female membership, New Zealand’s on-going neo-liberal political, social and economic ‘revolution’ resulted in the union’s dramatic loss of influence.

The paper concludes that a potentially transformative, militant and truly representative union, was reduced to just fighting for survival and that the chance to radically uplift women workers in the sector was stillborn, with the effects of this lost opportunity still being felt by women workers in the sector today.


Cropp, A. (2016, January 31). Hotel staff shortages spell trouble for tourism. Sunday Star Times, p. 3.

Deloitte. (2015). Australian Tourism Labour Force Report: 2015-2020. Australian Trade Commission.

Kensbock, S., Jennings, G., Bailey, J., & Patiar, A. (2013). ‘The lowest rung’: Women room attendants’ perceptions of five star hotels’ operational hierarchies. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 35(12), 360–368.

Kogovsek, M., & Kogovsek, M. (2015). Hospitality and Tourism Gender Issues Remain Unsolved: A Call for Research. Quaestus, (6), 194–203.

McIntosh, A., & Harris, C. (2012). Critical hospitality and work: (In)hospitable employment in the hospitality industry. Hospitality & Society, 2(2), 129–135.

Mooney, S., & Ryan, I. (2009). A woman’s place in hotel management: Upstairs or downstairs? Gender in Management, 24(3), 195–210.

New Zealand Tourism Industry Association. (2015). People & Skills 2025.

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