Ministry to investigate job complaints

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 13:00 29/01/2014

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The Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment has vowed to look into employment issues in the Nelson region following concerns raised in the Nelson Mail.

On January 14, the Mail published a story about a Nelson woman who was not offered an employment contract for a job she found through Work and Income. She said she believed job seekers were "being used" when they were not told their rights while looking for employment.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she knew of "countless" people who did not know their employment rights.

Since July 2011, the ministry has required all employers to keep signed copies of employment agreements or current terms and conditions for all employees, or they could be penalised.

Last year the Labour Inspectorate received 20 complaints from the Nelson/Marlborough region involving individual employment agreements.

Nelson Bays Community Law Service lawyer Peter Riley said that in the past year his office had dealt with about 15 cases relating to employers not providing written agreements to new employees.

Labour Inspectorate regional manager for Wellington and the Upper South Island, Steve Watson, said the Mail story had sparked concern. He said anyone with employment issues in the Nelson region should come forward and tell the ministry about them.

Mr Watson's team is responsible for investigating and making sure minimum employment standards are met.

He said that while he did not receive many complaints about employment agreement issues, if a complainant had tried to speak with his or her employer and a resolution was not reached, the ministry would step in.

"If it was a deliberate breach by an employer, we start an investigation on the scope of the problem. We speak to the employee and speak to employers, as there's usually two sides to every story."

If the employer did not comply, the inspector could issue them with a notice to fix the problem, he said. If this was ignored, the employer could be taken to the Employment Relations Authority.

It was expected that 90 per cent of cases would have the initial inquiry phase completed within one week, and the inspectors had six months to complete a full investigation.

Mr Watson said the ministry had found that dairy, horticulture, viticulture and hospitality were the key sectors in the Nelson region where there were employment issues.

Nationally, smaller businesses were more likely to have problems with employee rights, because they "don't have a high degree of employment legislation understanding", he said. However, "that's not really an excuse".

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Mr Watson said the ministry was particularly concerned about migrant labour and younger people in the workforce. "The Labour Inspectorate is quite serious about dealing with non-compliance by business, especially the high end of exploitation."

"There's no place in a just society for workers to be exploited," Mt Watson said.

"The ideal outcome is a lift and compliance with minimum labour standards across all industries, and [that] people are receiving their minimum entitlements."

However, he said people needed to come forward with employment issues for them to be fixed.

"If there is a problem, we want to know about it. It's what we are here to do."

Mr Watson said a Nelson region labour inspector met with representatives of the Ministry of Social Development last week, and the Mail article "certainly sped up the process".

He said a "cross-department approach" would be taken to get to the bottom of any complaints.

"We want to receive information - it can be anonymous. We need to build up intelligence."

Ministry of Social Development Acting Regional Commissioner Wendy Chisnall said the ministries would continue to work together on the matter.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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