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Government must end exploitative ‘forum shopping’ practice


FIRST Union is today calling on the New Zealand Government to intervene in the shocking case of a Filipino migrant worker and carpenter who, until Monday last week, was unable to return to his fixed employment in New Zealand after his former employer, Auckland-based building firm Renovo, used the reprehensible practice of ‘forum shopping’ to litigate demonstrably false NZ employment issues against him in the Philippines, causing the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to withhold the man’s Overseas Employment Certificate and maroon the man in the Philippines when he was due to return to work in New Zealand last week. The man has since returned to New Zealand after transiting through several other destinations, and while able to return to work, the man’s issues in the Philippines remain and necessitate a response from the New Zealand Government, FIRST Union said today.

The man came to New Zealand from the Philippines to work in April 2017, having received his Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) from local Filipino manpower agency YWA Human Resource Corporation, which works with the state-run Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to issue migrant workers with OECs before they head overseas. The man worked for building firm Renovo for almost a year and a half before leaving the company due to a toxic working atmosphere where he was regularly bullied and harassed by his Kiwi employer. In late 2018, he took on another carpentry role on the North Shore in Auckland and had left the original role at Renovo without breaching any New Zealand employment law, as his Individual Employment Agreement allowed.

"Renovo were not happy when the man got to leave his role without them being able to fire and deport him, and they went after him in the cruellest and pettiest way possible - through his Filipino manpower agency (YWA Human Resource Corporation)," said Mikee Santos, FIRST Union organiser, Chairman of MIGRANTE Aotearoa and coordinator for the union network of migrants, UNEMIG.

"Collusion with foreign employers like Renovo to raise false complaints about migrant workers is unfortunately becoming more and more commonplace, even where no real employment issues exist in the overseas jurisdiction."

"The Filipino Government and manpower agencies like to sell Filipino migrant workers overseas as docile, obedient, and cheap. When a New Zealand employer like Renovo makes a complaint - even without any foundation or evidence - it’s not hard for the manpower agency to get the worker blacklisted from leaving the country again by the Government."

"If New Zealand employers like Renovo have concerns, they should raise them in the New Zealand tribunals and Courts instead of using unfair and dubious legal avenues in other countries."

The term ‘forum shopping’ refers to the practice of litigating legal cases in the jurisdiction most likely to provide a favourable judgment to the litigant. In this case, Renovo appear to have used the practice retributively, despite having nothing to gain from any judgement against their former employee.

The man returned to the Philippines in December to spend Christmas with his family and was dismayed to discover shortly after arriving that his OEC has been revoked by the Filipino Government, meaning he was technically unable to return to work in New Zealand last week as scheduled. He has been charged with a breach of New Zealand employment law during his time at Renovo, despite the fact that there were never any grounds for dismissal under NZ law, that the Filipino Government has no jurisdiction over NZ employment law, and the process has been conducted without his involvement or right to defend himself.

"FIRST Union’s legal team has raised grievances with both Renovo and the YWA manpower agency, as well as elevating our complaints to POEA, the Filipino Government agency, but there has been no response yet," said Oliver Christeller, FIRST Union Senior Solicitor.

"Twelve million Filipinos work overseas - it is one of the largest diasporas on the planet - and it is tragic that New Zealand is becoming a place where our employers can meddle with the already-corrupted Filipino justice system to unduly punish former employees," said Mikee Santos.

"New Zealanders should be outraged at the conduct of Renovo, and we are calling on the Government here and MBIE to intervene immediately and let the employer know that New Zealand is the right forum for employment issues within our country and forum shopping is not an option."

"They have attempted to delegitimise our justice system and pursued a trumped-up charge in an overseas court to smear his name, and it stinks to high heaven - New Zealand employers like Renovo should not be able to get away with this."

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