Weak labour inspectorate hindering protection of workers rights

The resurfacing of an ongoing court case involving the fishing crews from trawlers owned by Sajo Oyang has once again thrown the spot light on the under funded and under resourced labour inspectorate. This inspectorate which is charged with ensuring compliance with New Zealand labour laws has struggled to make an impact on New Zealand’s worsening record of labour law violations with a growth in complexity, and severity of cases being brought before it.

The individual instances are too many to list. The range of victims varies considerably from crews of foreign trawlers owned by multi-nationals working in New Zealand waters to to the staff of small businesses in shopping mall food courts and restaurants. So does the complexity from long drawn out cases that only came to national attention after the media cast a spotlight on them, to staff taking their employers to court after finding out about their rights and how poorly they had been treated. Other smaller cases have involved one on one instances of particular employees being abused, under paid and threatened by their boss.

But it is not only the range of victims and the complexity of the cases that is concerning, but also the severity of some of the offences. The fishing crews involved in the case against Sajo Oyang from trawlers operating out of New Zealand ports alleged physical, sexual and mental abuse. They said the ships were derelict, and unsafe operating practices were rife. Evidence was found that fish were being dumped and that the records of catches were being deliberately fiddled with. This case, which came to the surface first in 2010 after an Oyang trawler sank at sea in bad weather with the loss of six crew. It then gained national attention in 2011 after the crew of a trawler berthed in Lyttelton tried to get off the ship is before the courts and is ongoing.

Then there are others, not working for large companies. One example are a group of people from a shopping mall food court in Auckland, who were not paid according to New Zealand law and were found to be owed N.Z.$160,000+. The fine comes two years after the labour inspectorate was first approached to investigate alleged non-compliance and found that not only was it happening, but it had been happening for sometime.

I believe that non-New Zealanders wanting to establish a business here must complete a certification course in which they learn about New Zealand labour laws. The certification should only be granted by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, and be liable for removal should the certificate holder demonstrate non-compliance. It should be enforced by the labour inspectorate. Revocation of the certificate removes the right of the holder to operate a business in New Zealand.

There are people who would call this nanny statism or big Government, but the reality is laws are often made because of a small percentage of people who either cannot or will not demonstrate reasonable or lawful behaviour. If it could be proved that every employee would treated with common human decency without the need for a labour inspectorate, I believe this would have happened by now.

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