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.
“There is a significant health and safety issue here as well” Sissons notes. “Rules that workers should try to stop cars from driving off without paying is a clear threat to the workers’ health and safety. Employers who have these rules in place are almost certainly in breach of their duty to take all practicable steps to keep their workers safe.”
An unnamed MBIE official is quoted on the front page of the Dominion Post (20 November 2014) as saying “deductions from wages due to customer behaviour could be challengeable if they were disproportionate to employee’s wages.” Sissons says “This advice is wrong: there is no concept of disproportionality in the relevant sections of the Wages Protection Act 1983.”
In the Dominion Post today (21 November 2014) another unnamed MBIE official today said “A worker had to agree in writing to any deduction.” Sissons says “This is right as far as it goes but the Courts have held that clauses allowing the employer to deduct money for loss caused by the worker are not lawful. It does not matter if the clause is in the agreement or not.”
“We have raised the issue of MBIE’s advice directly with them. We hope that they will consider correcting the record. The CTU is pleased that the labour inspectorate is looking into this issue.”
“The big problem here is the weak position most employees are in when negotiating conditions for a job or resisting this kind of demand from their employers. They are worried that if they argue the point they won’t get a job or will lose hours or job prospects – or even their job if their job is insecure. The Employment Relations Act recognises this lack of bargaining power for workers and that is why the law supports unionism. We understand from the EPMU that there is no issue of petrol station workers covered by their collective agreements having their wages unlawfully deducted in this way. We encourage workers to join a union and car owners to consider choosing chains such as BP which are predominantly unionised.”
For further information contact Jeff Sissons CTU General Counsel on 04 801 0834 or 027 455 3222