No exemptions for employee rights

Gurjinder Singh – No exemptions for employee rights-Gurjinder Singh

New Zealand has a comprehensive set of employment laws that keep workplaces fair.

International students have rights like New Zealand citizens and residents in the matter of employment, but they must be aware of the relevant laws and rules.

There are thousands of students working on casual and part-time basis.

Those on casual employment must be available when required by the employer to fill a leave vacancy, meet an unforeseen situation or work during odd hours.

The employer is not obliged to offer work. But a person may decline to work in a shift but once accepted must carry out the specified duties. Such jobs are usually based on business needs.

The employment will terminate at the end of each engagement but a person can re-engaged as per the terms of the employment agreement. In addition, the following are the basic rights of every worker: minimum hours of work and pay, paid bereavement leave, terminate the employment by short notice as per contract and annual leave pay as part of the wages.

However, such employees are not entitled to redundancy notice or compensation.

On-Call employees

On-Call employees have a somewhat better status than Casual employees, with an ongoing relation with the employer, but the hours of work are not guaranteed.

Their working hours are declared before the start of the work; the roster can change on short notice. Repeated non availability may result loss in the On-call status or termination of employment. Such employees are entitled to bereavement and annual leave, in addition to pay.

Fixed-term Agreements

A Fixed-term Agreement is an employment agreement offered for a specific period of time. The Employment Relations Act (ERA) 2000 allows employers to offer fixed-term agreements under certain circumstances. Such employment should have genuine reasons such as seasonal work, project work, or where the employee is filling in for a permanent employee on leave. The employer should also inform the employee of the reasons, how or when the employment will end. The employee should agree to this in their employment agreement.

Rights of illegal workers

An illegal immigrant worker is also entitled to protection under ERA.

A New Zealand Court ruled thus on a case: “Although Ms R did not hold a work visa throughout her employment at G workplace, the authority commented that as a matter of public policy, any employee working in New Zealand, irrespective of work visa status, is entitled to the protection under the ERA.”

The Immigration Act, administered by Labour Department under the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, not only makes it an offence not only to hire a worker without a work visa but also deny them minimum standards of employment.

Although this may seem fair, under the Immigration Act, it is not an offence on the part of a person to work without a visa.

The Act says that the migrant worker must have a visa, but does not provide any consequence. The employer is bound to pay such employee full wages as well as holiday pay under the law.

Leave and holidays

Most New Zealand workers would tell you that they get a good amount of leave, at least by international standards. A worker will get a minimum of four weeks’ annual leave and can ask to exchange one week’s leave for cash. In addition, there are 11 public holiday days.

If a student works on a public holiday, the employer has to pay them additional wages. The employee will also be entitled for a day off later. Every worker is also entitled to sick leave during a 12-month period.

Wages and deductions

The minimum wage for adults is $15.25 an hour from April 1, 2016. Income tax is deducted at source- this is known as PAYE (Pay as You Earn) tax.

Another, much smaller, deduction is the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) levy, which runs the insurance system. Wages are usually advertised as gross, before tax. Every worker will need a tax number known as IRD (Inland Revenue Department) Number – if you do not have one, you may be taxed at a higher rate. It is easy easy to get one right away.

Aside from PAYE tax and the ACC levy, your employer is not allowed to make any deductions from your pay without your permission.

Discrimination and harassment

Discriminating against someone because of the colour, nationality or country of origin, race, ethical belief, religion, political opinion, employment status, age or disability is illegal in New Zealand.

Sexual harassment, including requests for sexual contact and any kind of offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour, is also illegal here.

If you think you have been discriminated against or sexually harassed, you can complain to higher authorities at your workplace or the Labour Inspectorate.

If you are not sure of your rights or feel threatened, you can seek free legal advice from Citizens Advice Bureau nearest to you.

The Ministry website (www.employment.govt.nz) also contains detailed notes on rights and responsibilities of employers and employees.

Gurjinder Singh is an ‘Enrolled Barrister & Solicitor (NPC)’ based in Papatoetoe, Auckland. He can be contacted on (09) 2786580 or 021-2354969.

Email: gurjinder singh  gpnz2003@yahoo.co.nz

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