7 September 2017
Employers are breaking the law by denying workers their entitlement to a written employment agreement. Citizens Advice Bureau has produced a report based on the situations of 473 clients who contacted the CAB in the six months from 1 December 2016 to 31 May 2017 who did not have written employment agreements and who were dealing with a range of other breaches of their employment rights.
“When there is no written employment agreement, employees are vulnerable to being treated badly by their employer”, said Jayne McKendry, Social Policy Advisor at Citizens Advice Bureau New Zealand. Ms McKendry and her colleagues have looked closely at the 473 enquiries and they are appalled at the very clear breaches of law for these people.
“We have seen situations of employees not being paid wages owed to them, having their hours of work changed without discussion, and even being fired on the spot for taking a day’s sick leave” states Ms McKendry. “These are clear abuses of employees’ rights, rights which are very clearly stated in the law”, McKendry noted.
The CAB acknowledges that having a written employment agreement doesn’t guarantee that minimum standards of employment will be upheld, but they assert that a written agreement is a fundamental starting point for any employment relationship. They are calling on all employers, regardless of the size of their business, to make sure they understand their obligations to their staff.
“If you don’t know what’s legally required of you as an employer, it’s time you found out. There is plenty of information and support available to help you”, asserts McKendry.
CABs have seen many situations where things have gone awry at the end of the employment relationship, something that could have been prevented if there was a written employment agreement giving both parties a clear understanding about giving notice and about treating each other fairly and in good faith. “Having a written employment agreement makes life easier for both employers and employees” McKendry noted.
“CABs have received enquiries from clients who got fired on the spot for having a day off sick, or who’ve been told to either work longer hours or leave, or even for asking for an employment agreement. This is clearly unfair, and unlawful.”
“We’ve also talked to people who’ve just walked off the job with no, or very little, notice. In this situation, not having a written employment agreement doesn’t help the employer either”, Ms McKendry noted.
The Labour Inspectorate has statutory powers to enforce compliance with employment laws but given how widespread non-compliance is, they are seriously under-resourced to be able to respond to every breach. There is also currently nowhere for employees to go to safely report a breach of their rights and know that action will be taken in a way that will not back-fire on them.
The CAB believes that a more integrated cross-government approach is needed to address these issues, both in terms of educating employers and ensuring compliance with minimum employment standards.
The CAB hopes their report will prompt employers to get things in order and make sure every worker has a written employment agreement. “We also hope it will prompt government agencies to think of other ways to educate and upskill employers, to ensure there are consequences for those who knowingly disregard the law, and to make it easier for employees to report breaches of their rights without fear of losing their job if they do. We will certainly be advocating for this every chance we get,” Jayne concluded.
Read the full report here.
Contact: Jayne McKendry, Social Policy Advisor, CABNZ, Phone 04 471 2735
Citizens Advice Bureau is an independent community organisation offering free, confidential and independent information, advice and assistance from 83 locations stretching from Northland to Invercargill. Last year volunteers received over 500,000 enquiries on issues ranging from health and family, immigration, housing and employment to consumer rights.