Exclusive: Census workers plan legal action over recruitment process

A group of census workers are planning to take legal action over how they they were employed, as they feel the recruitment process was misleading.

The group, who have requested their identities remain private, say they'd been told the work as census field workers would be full-time, starting January 23 and running until April 6.

But despite earlier confirmation via text and messages, as time went on, the group says there was growing confusion around the exact start date and amount of work on offer.

One community organisation that did not want to be identified says it encouraged some of its members to take up the work.

They'd agreed to do so hoping it would not only see them earn a wage, but give back to their community as they helped Statistics New Zealand gather the required data around the community's needs.

"We encouraged them to take up this opportunity, to pretty much grow as people, unfortunately, they took the leap and we now only have some of them working, some have had to go on the benefit," says a manager with the organisation.

"It made us feel like we have failed them, and the community in this spot."

He says his organisation stepped in to cover some of the lost wages.

One of those workers who lost out has described having to scramble for extra work in order to make ends meet.

"We picked up extra hours in the night, doing stadium work," she says. "I have a big home, and I look after kids on my own."

A census team leader charged with responsibility for the field workers says a key issue has been the communication.

"Within two days of them supposedly starting, I had to pull the rug back out from under them, and back-track on almost everything I'd said. From their pay, to how we were doing things. Everything got changed on me, then I had to change it on them."

The workers have described their frustration at how the confusion has impacted their personal lives.

One man is working as a field collector now, but says it began later than he expected. It wasn't until his employment terms arrived that it appeared there'd be no guarantee of hours.

1News has seen the correspondence around what he was told.

"I felt angry, frustrated, stressed out, feeling misled, right from the get go. The simply analogy is it just felt like they were dangling it in front of us, and I was not quite able to grab it.

"It's affected both myself, and my wife, and we see the kids pick that up," he says. "And we certainly didn't think that we would be in this position with an employer of that big a name."

An employment partner at law firm Hesketh Henry, Jim Roberts, says the process sounds "shambolic" and that there may be grounds for further action.

"There's personal grievance rights, there's rights around the formation of employment agreements," he says. "There's a number of remedies these people would have under the Employment Relations Act."

Statistics New Zealand's Simon Mason says the organisation went through the standard government process when it engaged the two recruitment companies and says they have met its expectations.

"If anything does not meet our expectations, we will be working with PSK and Mana Recruitment to make sure it doesn't happen again, and will put the appropriate fixes in place."

He adds once the census collection period is over Statistics NZ would also review how it went, and look at what lessons it could learn for the future.

Mana Recruitment says it sourced workers but had no responsibility over their employment terms.

Persolkelly NZ (PSK) was the employer and said candidates had to accept casual contracts before work started.

It would look into any individual complaints further, it said.

Do you have a story to tell? Email corazon.miller@tvnz.co.nz


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