Hos­tels risk ca­sual-labour fines

The Timaru Herald - - CATALYST - AMANDA CROPP

Back­packer hos­tels face big fines if they con­tinue the long tra­di­tion of ca­su­ally of­fer­ing trav­ellers free beds in ex­change for un­paid labour.

Some in­dus­try stal­warts say trav­ellers can’t be both­ered with the pa­per­work now re­quired to legally work for ac­com­mo­da­tion, and they worry it will de­stroy hos­tel cul­ture.

But the Labour In­spec­torate is pre­par­ing to get heavy with those who do flout the law and is mon­i­tor­ing job ad­ver­tise­ments on back­packer and work ex­change web­sites.

Last year the in­spec­torate handed out in­fringe­ment no­tices car­ry­ing $5000 and $10,000 fines to some back­packer lodges that were fol­low­ing the-then com­mon prac­tice of al­low­ing guests to stay for free in re­turn for clean­ing or other work.

Those no­tices were re­scinded af­ter in­ter­ven­tion by a na­tional back­packer or­gan­i­sa­tion, and lodges got a grace pe­riod to get their busi­nesses in or­der.

That pe­riod is now well and truly over and in­spec­torate na­tional man­ager Stu Lums­den said a num­ber of the busi­nesses given warn­ings about use of vol­un­teers had re­placed them with full­time em­ploy­ees.

In­spec­tors were now re­vis­it­ing hos­tels to check they were toe­ing the line, ‘‘but I be­lieve that when we go back, we will still find this oc­cur­ring’’.

‘‘These prac­tices put work­ers out of pocket, they un­der­mine oth­ers in the in­dus­try who do meet all their obli­ga­tions, and re­move a po­ten­tial em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­nity from the mar­ket.’’

Lums­den said an Em­ploy­ment Re­la­tions Au­thor­ity rul­ing against Robin­wood Farm on the out­skirts of Christchurch farm for its ex­ploita­tion of young trav­ellers labour­ing in fire­wood and gar­den­ing busi­nesses was ‘‘the first cab off the rank’’.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously the rea­son we jumped on this one was be­cause of the ex­ploita­tion as­pect of those over­seas peo­ple, and the pos­si­ble dam­age that could do to our rep­u­ta­tion.’’

Phil Les­lie man­ages the 300-bed All Stars Inn back­packer lodge in Christchurch and heads a group rep­re­sent­ing city hos­tels.

He said trav­ellers were re­sis­tant to the has­sle of sign­ing an em­ploy­ment con­tract, and the need for a tax num­ber and a bank ac­count.

‘‘They’re so used to com­ing in and say­ing ‘hey, here I am’ and we’d throw them in a bed, and away we’d go.

‘‘Now they have to be re­garded as a part-time em­ployee. Some just travel around with credit cards, and don’t have lo­cal bank ac­counts.

‘‘We used to have up to 10 peo­ple work­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tion; at the mo­ment we have four.’’

Christchurch back­packer owner Eric Fo­ley, who heads the BBH net­work of 160 New Zealand hos­tels, said the new bu­reau­cracy would kill the sec­tor’s spe­cial cul­ture.

The dan­ger was that back­pack­ers want­ing to make use of ca­sual bed-for-labour deals would de­cide to spend less time in New Zealand, or choose to visit coun­tries that al­lowed the prac­tice.

‘‘To de­scribe it as ex­ploita­tion is an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. These are in­tel­li­gent, mo­bile peo­ple and if it doesn’t suit them, they just move on. There will al­ways be peo­ple with a sense of ad­ven­ture who want to do this.’’

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