Cho­rus scraps vol­un­tary con­tracts

Nelson Mail - - FRONT PAGE - KATY JONES

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.

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