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Some employers underpaying staff during lockdown

Some employers are underpaying their workers and First Union says it's expecting to see that continue as lockdown rolls on in Auckland and Northland.

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One multinational company is only paying staff 80 per cent of their wages. Source: 1 NEWS

Eyewear company OPSM/Luxottica is paying New Zealand staff 80 per cent of their normal rate of pay. In an email a spokesperson told 1 NEWS that employees are the companies' “most important asset” and the pay reduction is “consistent with previous long-term lockdowns”.

Meanwhile cleaning company OCS has paused a proposal to not pay some staff at all. In an email leaked to 1 NEWS on August 20th, staff were told they would continue to be paid if their worksite remains open or if clients continued to pay for services, but other workers may not receive any wages at all.

“If your worksite is closed and the client has indicated they will not be paying for services, we are seeking your views on the proposal not to pay you… until work can resume, on the basis that… you are not ‘ready, willing and able’ to work,” the email reads.

OCS says it’s now planning on paying staff their full wages until at least September 14th if the company receives the Government’s wage subsidy.

“If OCS’ application is successful, the company proposes to pay you at 100% of your normal earnings for the period 1 September 2021 to 14 September 2021. This is also subject to you not declining any reasonable redeployment option provided to you by OCS,” operations director Gavin Upston told staff.

“While we hope that any further wage subsidy arrangements can be utilised by OCS to support the ongoing payment of wages (at some level) for any applicable period beyond 14 September, we’re unable to confirm that.”

Businesses facing a loss over lockdown can apply for the Government's wage subsidy on the condition that they try to pay their staff at least 80 per cent of their usual rate, but employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk says paying workers any less than what's in their contract could see businesses end up in court.

“There have been Employment Relations Authority decisions since the last lockdown - both of those decisions have found that employers can't unilaterally reduce wages. Any employer paying less than the employee's full wages does run the risk of breaching their employment agreement,” she said.

“It's going to be a reckless employer who just ignores their contractual obligations. If they do they're potentially up for backpay… humiliation and distress, and also potential penalties for breaching employment agreements.”

File picture. Source: istock.com

First Union’s Tali Williams says she’s expecting to see more workers losing out as Level 4 lockdown continues in the north of the country.

“Basically what we have is employers saying this is unknown territory so we're not going to pay people until we know what's happening next - that's just not a good enough reason. Profitable employers need to pay people the 100 per cent of their wages. They can afford to. There's no excuse not to.

“Good faith isn’t there.”

It’s not just large corporations that have proposed not paying staff. Former vape shop worker Nick Moss says he and other staff received a group text from their boss the night New Zealand went into lockdown saying staff in Auckland wouldn’t be getting paid.

"Company shut down for the whole week. There will be no incoming for the whole week... there will be no wages, I'm afraid," the texts read.

Workers who received the texts suggested the company owner apply for the wage subsidy, but initially the suggestion wasn’t well received.

“Are you asking me to apply for the wage subsidy?... It is what it is. If you want to resign please email me... I would appreciate if you do it tonight,” the owner said to one worker.

The business owner has since told 1 NEWS staff are getting paid, but Moss says he doesn’t have faith that’ll continue going forward and has resigned.

“I felt very not valued because it was very obvious the only thing being cared about was the money coming in. There was no regard for my wellbeing,” Moss said.

His message to business owners is to “look after your employees”. He’s concerned about the safety of his former colleagues who are still going to work to help with online deliveries during Level 4.

The company owner has admitted that he hired a signwriter to come on-site to do non-essential work during lockdown.

“Make sure that you are across all of your obligations… If you look after your employees, your employees will look after the company,” Moss said.