Monday, March 04, 2013

Victims of prison labour?

One of the worries about prison slave labour is that unpaid prisoners will displace real workers from employment. And at first glance that's what seems to be going on in this story:

A Kaiapoi business fired five of its labourers two days after employing 11 convicts - and then made the workers train the inmates who were to replace them, current and former staff say.

Kaiapoi man Hare Solomon said Kiwi Pallets Kaiapoi told him and four workmates they would be laid off in late January "due to lack of work and other factors" just days after the company had hired 11 inmates from Christchurch's Rolleston Prison under the Release to Work scheme.

He was then made to train the convicts during the two-week notice period.

Except that the replacements were employed under the release to work scheme. Which means they get real wages and are subject to normal employment conditions. And while "real wages" allows for a lot of variability, the sacked workers have said they were paid minimum wage, so there's no legal scope for them to be cheaper.

So what's going on? Is Corrections paying subsidies so that it can meet its employment targets? Or is this just a case of a bad employer using bad process to implement a dumb idea (for which they are already suffering in the productivity stakes, and will likely be facing an Employment Relations Authority case as well)?

(There have been other cases of prison slave labour undercutting real businesses and taking jobs from workers, but this doesn't seem to be one of them).