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Hospitality workers petition against tiered union membership

Hospo Voice members must pay for a premium membership of $79 before they can speak to an industrial officer.

Hospitality workers have rejected a new union membership system implemented by Hospo Voice, which requires them to pay $79 a month before receiving industrial advice.

Introduced last week by the union’s national leadership, the new system adopts a three-tiered pricing model where members must pay different fees to access different levels of support. 

Those who join as a ‘basic’ member for $9 a month, for example, will receive access to discounts and RSA certification, while only those who have a “plus” membership will be able to see an industrial officer.

Prior to the change, there was a flat membership fee of $9.99 per month.

Hospo Voice’s tiered membership system was introduced last Wednesday.

In a media release, these changes were said to be more “financially sustainable” for the union. 

However, members of Hospo Voice are petitioning against the new model as it denies help to workers who can’t afford a top tier membership.

“The price of $80 for the top tier is completely out of reach for the average hospitality worker — particularly a worker who is being underpaid, in insecure work,” Hospo Voice industry leaders wrote on behalf of members.

“We cannot stand by silently as a system is introduced into our union that means that those who can afford more, get more.”

Tiered membership not the problem 

Given the union’s financial pressures, members say they aren’t opposed to a tiered membership system. However, they oppose a model which affords different rights to different members based on their financial capacity.

“This system will just reinforce the inequality that already exists in our industry, and the most vulnerable workers will continue to lose out,” they said.

“This is particularly concerning in the context of an industry that is empirically proven to be rife with exploitation, wage theft, sexual harassment, and unsafe working conditions.”

Instead, these members say they support a model which adjusts membership price according to financial ability, without restricting access to resources — a model commonly adopted by other unions.

Additionally, members have pointed out the “ethical implications” of charging $79 for industrial assistance, given that the United Workers Union, to which Hospo Voice is affiliated, provides the same support to hospitality workers for only $57 per month.

In a response to members’ concerns, Hospo Voice National Director Karma Lord said: “We strongly believe creating different types of membership is fair and is the right move for Hospo Voice.”

“Offering different membership levels is now a standard feature across different membership organisations and they have succeeded because they give members the power to decide how much they pay and which features they want.”

‘We don’t want a subscription service’

Membership benefits currently offered by Hospo Voice include discounted movie tickets, access to messaging app ‘Mobilise,’ and masterclasses in coffee making and cocktail curation.

However, the union has been criticised for investing heavily into services rather than member-led action, which is said to be contributing to a decline in membership numbers.

Members say that as long as these perks are prioritised, Hospo Voice “will only ever remain a service that people access and then disengage from once that service is no longer needed.”

“We don’t want a subscription service, we don’t need a separate body that exists to offer assistance temporarily. We need a union,” members said.

“We need this membership to be engaged with their union — to believe that we can build a better industry together, to stick around, and to organise their workmates to actually make some gains and build our confidence.”

Lord said that while the union’s services have been expanded, Hospo Voice will “keep campaigning for industry change” and that much of the training provided will focus on “build[ing] the skills of union members.”

Decision was ‘undemocratic’

The implementation of the new membership system has raised concerns about undemocratic decision-making within the union. 

When the proposal was put to Hospo Voice industry leaders, they were told that the decision had already been made. After leaders reiterated their concerns in writing, they were told they must defer to the “democratically elected national leadership.”

Multiple sources have also reported that Hospo Voice members are being blocked from social media or removed from organising spaces for expressing dissent.

“We resent being used to give our union the facade of democratic participation, when in reality, we are deeply concerned about the undemocratic way that this proposal has been implemented,” members said.

“Without democratic accountability, leadership will inevitably become out of touch with the membership it is supposed to represent.”

In their petition, members have demanded “an end to the tiered membership model, and in its place, the implementation of a dues structure based on capacity to pay.”

You can sign the petition by Hospo Voice members here.