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Labour-hire Works Are Falling Between The Cracks During Pandemic Response

Labour-hire workers are falling between the cracks because neither the agencies they are employed by nor the host companies they work for want to take responsibility for them, FIRST Union said today.

Dozens of agency workers have been contacting the union’s Labour-hire Workers Network for assistance since the lockdown began. Some have been told by their employers that they are not eligible for the Government wage subsidy as they were not on an active assignment when the lockdown came into effect, but others have missed out despite being on active, indefinite assignments.

One worker was told he was not eligible for the subsidy by his employer, so rang the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to find out about other assistance and was told the wage subsidy had in fact been claimed by his employer under his name.

"The company appeared to have had no intention of passing the money onto this employee of theirs," says FIRST Union spokesperson Anita Rosentreter.

When the worker confronted his employer, the company claimed it had returned the money to the MSD.

"It remains to be seen whether this is actually what they did," says Ms Rosentreter.

FIRST Union has growing suspicions that other major labour-hire companies have done the same, without their employees' knowledge or consent.

"These workers are used to being denied pay when they aren’t on an active assignment, so might not even think to ask," says Ms Rosentreter.

"We’re encouraging them to bypass their employer and find out directly through MSD if their name was on their employer’s application. The Labour-hire Workers Network can help them with this process."

Another labour-hire company, Kelly Services, supplies agency workers to The Warehouse’s distribution centre in Wiri, South Auckland. When the lockdown began, Kelly stood them down without pay and told them they were not eligible for the wage subsidy because the company had not experienced a 30% downturn in revenue.

Though labour-hire workers are often treated as ‘temp’ workers, their assignments are indefinite and their work patterns reflect full-time permanent work. Many have been on the same assignment for years.

"These workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place," says Ms Rosentreter. "The labour-hire company being ‘the rock’ and the host company ‘the hard place’. Neither one wants to take responsibility for them, so they inevitably lose out altogether."

A new piece of legislation for the labour-hire industry called the Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Act came into effect on June 1st, but concerns remain that it does not go far enough to protect labour hire workers from exploitative employers.

"The Government needs to take action on this industry way beyond what is explicitly covered in the new Act, or else these workers will simply keep falling between the cracks."

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