Chorus scraps voluntary contracts
Network company Chorus has scrapped a scheme that saw people from India working on voluntary unpaid contracts on its fibre optics programme in Nelson.
Chorus said it was ‘‘deeply uncomfortable’’ with the initiative, under which three men were brought in on the one-month contracts by a company subcontracted to Universal Communications Group (UCG); Chorus’ service company in Nelson.
The volunteers had been staying at The Palace Backpackers in the city. Owner Dave Enting contacted Chorus and The Nelson Mail with concerns about his guests, who had since left.
‘‘I was alarmed that people who I expected to be earning good money, were earning nothing. They’ve been surviving, but now they’ve basically reached the end of their financial reserves that they brought with them.’’
Chorus said two of the volunteers agreed to extend their contracts for another month working unpaid, while a third man had ended his involvement in the programme and was believed to have gone to Auckland.
The men had signed voluntary contracts with UCG’s subcontractor, Auckland-based Sunwin Technologies Limited.
Chorus would not comment further on the volunteers’ details, including the type of visas they were on. It said the workers’ role was mainly to observe the work being done by fibre technicians.
The company had been unaware of the programme before being contacted by Stuff.
‘‘On investigation, our service company in Nelson, UCG, has advised...[the] intention was to help people who wanted to learn about the industry and see if a career as a fibre technician was one they wanted to pursue further,’’ spokesman Nathan Beaumount said. ‘‘However, the scheme is something Chorus is deeply uncomfortable with and, now that we are aware of it, it will be stopped immediately.’’
UCG said via a three-line emailed response it was aware that Sunwin Technologies had a voluntary programme, aligned with the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) guidelines.
It did not answer questions relating to who made the decision to implement the programme,
‘‘To our understanding based on Sunwin’s feedback, they have followed the guidelines as stipulated by the EMA,’’ general manager operations, Paul Trotman said.
Attempts to track Sunwin Technologies were not successful.
Chorus maintained there were still strong employment opportunities for fibre technicians and trainees, and there was no need for volunteers. ‘‘If our service companies and their sub-contractors have a position that needs to be filled, it should be paid employment only,’’ Beaumont said.
Chorus would work with UCG to ensure the people involved were looked after and received any support they needed.
The Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation would be making further enquiries.
‘‘Wherever a worker is being rewarded in a business at whatever level, the Labour Inspectorate’s starting position is that these people are employees and minimum employment standards apply,’’ Labour Inspectorate acting national manager, Kevin Finnegan said.
‘‘The Ministry encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation, or the situation of someone they know, to call 0800 20 90 20.’’
Chorus said the workers’ role was mainly to observe the work being done by fibre technicians.