Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A ludicrous proposition

When is a worker not a worker, and not subject to the basic protections of the Minimum Wage Act, Employment Relations Act, and Health and Safety in Employment Act? Apparently, when they're Chinese. At least, that appears to be the position of MBIE and the New Zealand government in the case of KiwiRail's foreign contracted workforce:

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse is satisfied that Chinese rail engineers contracted by KiwiRail are probably not subject to New Zealand law.

On April 17 the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment released its investigation into alleged mistreatment of the workers employed by a Chinese company to remove asbestos by locomotives used by state-owned KiwiRail in Lower Hutt.

Last August Labour's Trevor Mallard, the MP for Hutt South, alleged that the workers were earning well below minimum wage, and colleagues were so concerned they were providing them food and hosting them for meals.

The report cleared the Chinese company, CNR Dalian Locomotive, of any wrongdoing, but the ministry admitted that both the employees and employer had blocked its attempts to gain wage records.

"[I]t is more than likely New Zealand employment law does not apply to these workers as they are based in China and here only temporarily for work," the ministry said.

Bullshit. They're not here overnight, or for a one-week trip. They're working here, in New Zealand, for months. And when they work in New Zealand, they should be entitled to the same protections as the rest of us: the minimum wage, holidays, sick leave, protection against discrimination. We adopt this position at sea, both for coastal shipping and for fishing vessels. We should demand that land-based workers enjoy the same protection as well. And unions shouldn't have to take the government to court to enforce protections this basic.