'Vulnerable workers' change criticised

Tinkering with parts of the Employment Contracts Act involving "vulnerable workers" would result in years of litigation and Employment Court disputes, Crest Commercial Cleaning managing director Grant McLauchlan warned yesterday.

Crest Commercial Cleaning managing director Grant McLauchlan. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Crest Commercial Cleaning managing director Grant McLauchlan. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Mr McLauchlan, of Dunedin, and Crest have been running a website called "Vulnerable Minister" which is critical of Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson, particularly on Part 6A of the Act.

Part 6A requires employers in the cleaning, catering, orderly and laundry industries to take on the staff of a competitor if they win a contract in any of those particular industries.

Mr McLauchlan was in Singapore when he received news of the changes announced on Tuesday by Ms Wilkinson that included exempting employers with fewer than 20 employees from having to take on staff doing the work under the previous contract owner.

"Well we, and I believe a majority of the industries affected by Part 6A, are gobsmacked by this announcement that clearly reflects the lack of greater industry consultation and engagement through this statutory review," he told the Otago Daily Times.

Crest had previously warned that any untested "soft" amendments would have significant effects for contractors.

"For example, who is going to tally an incoming contractor's employees to see if the amended Part 6A legislation applies?"

Ms Wilkinson used an example of a husband and wife cleaning team who won a small contract being currently required to take on any staff doing the work under the previous contract owner. Her proposed amendments would remove that requirement.

However, Mr McLauchlan said that husband and wife team were not covered or protected by Part 6A if they lost a contract, because they were self-employed.

"The minister is naive to the real issues."

But the greatest issue with Part 6A was that since its enactment in 2006, it had contributed 100% to the collapse of the Building Services Contractors Industry Training Organisation, he said.

None of the large cleaning companies were conducting any industry training through the ITO for their staff because of the likelihood they would work for the opposition in the future.

"This makes the very people it's designed to protect even more vulnerable," Mr McLauchlan said.

Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall levelled his criticism at Mr McLauchlan, when commenting on the changes to the so-called vulnerable workers clause.

"This is not a change that has been sought by the legitimate, large employers in the sector who value a stable workforce and understand the need for protections when contracts change hands.

"It is the result of a one-man band campaign from Crest Clean - a company which has fought hard to resist complying with law that was put in place to prevent workers in cut-throat industries being used as pawns to drive down costs."

Part 6A was not about preserving high wages. It was about maintaining a stable workforce in the industry and good employers understood it was good for business, Mr Ryall said.


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