W&I not teaching job seekers their rights

Last updated 13:00 14/01/2014

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A Nelson woman believes job seekers are "being used" when they are not told their rights while looking for employment.

Sarah (last name withheld) resigned from a job she found through the Work and Income New Zealand job board while she was receiving Sole-Parent Support.

She said she resigned from a small retail store last week because her boss did not give her an employment agreement despite her persistently asking for one. She was within a nine-week trial period and said her boss did not object to her resignation.

Since July 2011, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has required all employers keep signed copies of employment agreements or current terms and conditions for all employees, or they could be penalised.

The woman said she asked numerous times about the contract but her Nelson employer wouldn't answer her on the issue, and never offered her one, instead she was supplied with a letter which stated basic time, day and pay rate details.

She said she knew of "countless" people who did not know their employee rights and that beneficiaries in particular needed to be made aware of their rights.

"Employers use the 90-day trial to get what they need, it's a temporary measure and a lot of people are being used. There needs to be a brochure telling people their rights and the laws if anything happens in the workplace."

Sarah has lived in Nelson for the last 14 years, and has had over 20 different jobs over this period, with three in the last year. She said she either left or was dismissed from jobs because she needed flexibility to deal with her children's needs. She found she only had issues when working for small businesses.

Since leaving her latest job she said her partner had to move into her home to support her and her family.

Beneficiaries advocate Kay Brereton said it was "really slack practice" when Work and Income put people into jobs without seeing employment agreements.

She was part of the National Beneficiaries Advocacy Consultative Group that met four times a year to discuss issues with the Ministry of Social Development. "We want to introduce better practice with employment agreements; they [case managers] need to sight it and make sure minimum conditions and wages are met, and make sure the potential employee know their rights."

She said Sarah's issue was common.

It was often smaller businesses who might be "daunted" by employment law and work condition requirements, she said.

Ms Brereton said many people coming through Work and Income had limited knowledge of minium work conditions and rights and it was the social responsibility of Work and Income to teach them.

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Ministry of Social Development Regional Commissioner Janine Dowding said anyone could find work through Work and Income but those on the Jobseeker allowance had to attend a work search seminar to learn about finding employment. "At times seminar facilitators may touch on employment contracts and refer clients to the appropriate advice, but it is not standard seminar content."

Nelson Bays Community Law Service lawyer Peter Riley said in the the last year his offices had about 15 cases relating to employers not providing written agreements to new employees. He agreed that the issue was mostly with small businesses.

- Nelson

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