CTU criticises poor government advice to workers on drive-offs

21 Nov

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has raised concerns with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (‘MBIE’) regarding their reported advice to workers about the petrol station drive away issue.

Jeff Sissons, CTU General Counsel, says “Clauses in employment agreements allowing employers to deduct money from workers’ wages to compensate them for loss caused by workers are unlawful. In the case of petrol station drive offs the worker will not even be at fault so deducting pay will almost certainly be against the law.

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Want a Living Wage? Work at McDonald’s… in Denmark

21 Nov

Fast-food workers display signs during a protest to demand regular hiring in Quezon City, Philippines. (AP Photo/Pat Roque)

By Michelle Chen
Reprinted from The Nation

The fast-food workers’ movement has exploded in size and reach over the past year with strikes and protests in dozens of cities. The movement seems to encapsulate rising public disgust not just with the workers’ low wages but with the entire fast-food industry, which runs on an ugly feedback loop of poverty wages, junk diets and commercial exploitation for both consumers and workers. But now the fast-food workers’ campaign has “gone global,” spreading to parts of the world where fast-food logos project a different image, one that ranges from an imperialist corporate hegemony (Manila) to a respectable career (Copenhagen). Now the “Fight for 15” activists are touring different cities to explore how fast food goes down around the world.

In recent days, American fast-food worker activists have embarked on a tour spanning eight countries to share their stories with fellow workers and exchange ideas on organizing locally and globally—mounting a populist challenge to an industry that generates hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide.

Fight for 15 workers from Los Angeles, Albina Ardon and Moses Brooks, have met activists withthe SENTRO union in Manila. The union is organizing a youth-led fast-food worker movement targeting McDonald’s, KFC, and the leading Filipino fast-food chain, Jollibee. The group has called out the “short-term and unprotected work arrangements” prevalent in the industry, particularly the so-called “5-5-5” temp-job system (a model familiar to many American workers), in which “workers are endlessly hired and fired every five months to prevent them from becoming permanent or regular workers.” Aiming to build a national fast-food labor organization, the workers counter the narrative that Westernization via fast-food brands marks a step up for a developing nation. They point instead to the unsavory reality of the global food system, which markets cheap treats to a poor country, to keep their workforce even cheaper.

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Letter to Minister on abuse of breaks law

21 Nov

Michael Woodhouse
Minister of Labour
Parliament Buildings
Wellington
6160

20 November 2014

Dear Mr Woodhouse,

Yesterday I received a concerning email from one of our union members.

It stated that:

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

This is a direct consequence of the recently passed rest breaks legislation.

You have stated through the media that these law changes were aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights. You said that you saw it applying in situations such as a sole operator at a petrol-station, sole-charge air traffic controllers at small airports, or nurses on a night shift.

You also said that employees and employers would be able to negotiate their rest breaks.

“I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome.”

This law has not even come into effect yet and already this legislation has been used as an excuse to take advantage of workers at a hotel in Auckland. These workers are not sole-charge. This is not a small employer. This is a well-known nationwide brand. These workers do an incredibly physical job all day involving heaving lifting, bending, pushing and pulling. Many of these workers are on work visas, many do not speak English as a first language.

These workers were not given the chance to negotiate their breaks. They were simply told during a morning staff briefing that their breaks were changing from now on and they were to work almost an entire shift without a rest break. Even if they were able to negotiate their breaks how could they do this successfully given that they are already in a vulnerable position, being that many are migrant workers?

This is the direct consequence of the law change you supported. This is the first example. We expect there will be many, many more.

I have some questions for you Minister.

a) Is this the actual intended effect for this legislation, do you think this is fair and reasonable?

b) Do you think this is reasonable in terms of an employers’ responsibility regarding the health and safety of these workers?

c) How do you suggest workers go about negotiating their tea breaks with their employer, especially non-union workers?

d) Do you have any further advice for these workers?

Mr Woodhouse, I am eager to discuss the effects of this law change with you further. Would you be willing to meet with us and a delegation of our union members?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Shanna Reeder
Hotels Organiser
Unite Union
029 44 55 703
shanna@unite.org.nz

Employer caught abusing new ‘teabreaks law’ to exploit workers

20 Nov


Unite Union hotel workers picket 2007

The government passed the controversial ‘teabreaks’ legislation only a few weeks ago and already Unite Union has caught an employer using this law as an excuse for ill-treating their staff.

Yesterday a union member, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, emailed Hotel Organiser Shanna Reeder.

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

The new law actually will only come into effect in March 2015, however it seems this misinformed employer has jumped at the opportunity to stop workers having their breaks.

Previously, National Party MP and current Minister of Labour Michael Woodhouse has said the move was aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights. “I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome.”

Unite Organiser Shanna Reeder says “This is clearly the outcome of this unfair anti-worker legislation. The Minister has been proven wrong on one occasion already and we know there will be many more instances of this abuse. He says employees can just go to the boss and negotiate things. This example clearly shows that there is no intention of negotiation from the employer. This is a blanket rule that was rolled out and announced to all staff. I’ll be writing to the Minister to advise him of this case and further cases that are reported to us that show that this piece of legislation is failing workers and stripping them of their dignity and rights.”

Unite Union will also be writing to the employer involved to inform them that they have breached current employment law and that they are expected to abide by current legislation at all times. If the employer does not rectify this immediately we will re-consult with the workers involved to determine what action they prefer in order to get a fair resolution.

Migrant Labour, exploitation and free markets

17 Nov

By Mike Treen

Unite Union National Director

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

Once more we read about a horror story of virtual slavery for a migrant worker in a restaurant in Christchurch. The silver lining that in this case compensation should be paid is not assured. Often in situations like this the employer winds up their business, the worker gets nothing and they reopen with “new” owner on the books.

This example may be extreme but the just this month the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment found sixteen Christchurch labour hire and construction companies to be in breach of employment laws through a series of proactive audits they carried out. 40 audits were carried out, 23 completed and 16 – that is 70% of the completed audits – to be operating illegal exploitative practices. Many of these involved migrant labour brought in for the post-earthquake rebuild. This is the only time I know of where MBIE has done a pro-active audit of companies – that is they haven’t waited for a complaint before acting.

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Christchurch chef awarded close to $175,000 in compensation

13 Nov

(Reprinted from the NZ Herald)

By Sophie Ryan @SophieRyan

A chef employed at a Christchurch Vietnamese restaurant has been awarded $174,356.65 after working for five years without being paid, in what the Employment Relations Authority calls one of an increasing number of cases of exploitation of migrant workers.

His brother has also been awarded $14,386.73 for not being paid either.Bao Ho Van Nguyen and Vu Ho Van Nguyen both worked in Hue Kim Thi Ta’s restaurant Little Saigon.

Both brothers’ Immigration New Zealand (INZ) work permits were supported by Ms Ta.

They are the son of a cousin of Ms Ta who owes Ms Ta about $12,000. Their mother said there was no way she could repay the debt to Ms Ta and suggest Vu could come to New Zealand and work for her to repay the debt.

The brothers didn’t speak English when they arrived and still do not now. They worked on average 66.5 hours over seven days each week.

They lived in Ms Ta’s garage with one or two other employees and took all their meals with Ms Ta’s family, usually at the restaurant.

Vu began working for Ms Ta in Christchurch in early 2009.

Ms Ta gave the Employment Relations Authority a notebook that she said shows evidence she paid Vu $2,280 monthly.

Member of the Authority Christine Hickey said the notebook wasn’t good enough evidence to prove Vu was paid more than the $1,500 he claimed he was paid for the five years work.

After the Christchurch Earthquakes the restaurant shut down for a period and Ms Ta received subsidies to pay her staff. She didn’t pay Vu any of these and Ms Hickey ordered that pay to be included in the arrears.

Ms Ta was ordered to pay Vu $150,026.99 in wage arrears, and $12,002.16 in holiday pay. He was also to be paid $327.50 gross in lost remuneration, and $8,000 in compensation.

Bao got a work visa in November 2012 and began working for Ms Ta soon after. Ms Ta didn’t pay him, and Ms Hickey ordered her to pay Bao $7,041.23 in wage arrears and holiday pay. He was also to be paid $327.50 gross in lost remuneration, and $6,000 in compensation.

The Authority also found that both brothers were unjustifiably dismissed by Ms Ta on January 2, 2013.

Vu and Bao told the Authority that they were given permission to go on a fishing trip and were asked to wash and dry the tablecloths while Ms Ta was away.

They asked another employee to do the task for them, but Ms Ta returned to work earlier than expected and found the tablecloths wet. She called them and told them they no longer had a job.Ms Ta disputed this, and said she wasn’t angry with them, but the authority preferred Vu and Bao’s evidence.

Ms Hickey ordered Ms Ta to pay penalties that sent "an unequivocal message that breaches of minimum employment standards are totally unacceptable in New Zealand."

"There is an increasing number of cases in which vulnerable migrant workers have been subject to exploitation," she said."

This inequality is greatly increased for workers such as Vu and Bao Ho Van Nguyen, who were very vulnerable to exploitation being able to work only under work permits specifically allowing them to work for Ms Ta, who do not speak English, who were likely unaware of their rights as employees and who were bound by complex personal and family loyalty to Ms Ta despite her illegal practices.

"Ms Ta was penalised with a fine of $5,000, with $4,000 to go to Vu and $1,000 to Bao.

Costs were reserved.

Auckland Mitre 10 MEGA fined after teen loses fingers

12 Nov

12 November 2014

Grove Hardware Limited, trading as Mitre 10 MEGA Glenfield, was fined $39,450 and ordered to pay reparation of $20,000 yesterday after an employee had two fingers partially amputated and nerve severed on another finger by a saw. The 16-year-old employee spent nine days in hospital as a result of his serious injuries.

The employer was sentenced today in the North Shore District Court under the Health and Safety in Employment Act for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of the employee.

The saw was initially guarded by perspex blade guards which kept breaking. A few days before the incident in March 2014, the guards were replaced by two steel guards which were incorrectly installed and kept jamming.

The right hand guard was then removed and the left hand guard was left stuck in an upright position. These actions exposed the rotating cutting blade.

WorkSafe New Zealand’s investigation also found that a key used to unlock the saw was easily accessible to all workers – it should have been restricted to trained or authorised operators only. At times the key was also left in the saw.

“Grove Hardware should have ensured that the saw was guarded, that the guards were correctly installed and that there was an effective system for training operators,” says WorkSafe New Zealand Chief Inspector, Keith Stewart.

“The Duty Manager’s log book and weekly checklist contained a check for the saw that ‘all guards should be attached and in good working condition’. Under the corrective actions section it said ‘unsafe machinery must not be used until repaired’. This was signed off by the defendant but was clearly not monitored or implemented.

“Serious workplace injuries are often caused because of inadequate machine guarding or machines not being used properly. Young people in particular are at risk when using machinery and it is important that health and safety systems ensure they are protected.”

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