9 Jul 2017

Mainfreight regrets 'high price' for contract error

7:44 am on 9 July 2017

The country's largest transport company has spoken out against the government's decision to ban it for six months from recruiting migrant workers.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mainfreight is one of the 53 employers the government has stood down from hiring migrant workers, because of what it calls exploitative practices.

The company's chairman, Bruce Plested, said it was given a suspension because three of its workers, who were New Zealand citizens, did not have signed contracts.

"Mainfreight's name appears as a result of a compliance audit by MBIE [the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] last year which identified that three of the company's employees did not have written employment agreements on file. The company has since taken steps to manage this process better," he said in a statement.

"Mainfreight has paid a high price in bad publicity for what is basically an administrative error. The increasing reach of bureaucracy continues to amaze."

However, an employment lawyer, Peter Cullen, said Mainfreight should have known better.

"They're completely in the wrong. It's really important for all workers to have a written contract, it's been the law for a long time. It's more important for migrants, because they're much more vulnerable, but all workers are vulnerable and having a written contract gives them some balancing of power."

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, who revealed the latest numbers during a speech on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme in Blenheim last week, said the stand-down policy was introduced in February.

While 53 companies had been stood down since then, he said he was "pleased to learn" only four were from the horticulture and viticulture industries.

The minister praised the RSE scheme, which is mostly used to give Pacific people short-term visas to work in New Zealand's orchards and vineyards, and said he believed compliance was "heading in the right direction".

A list released by the government last week shows Mainfreight's stand-down period began on 28 April and will last until 28 October.

View the stand-down list released by the government on 3 July (PDF, 265KB)