Protesting the missing wage subsidy (Photo: Plantation Conversations)
Protesting the missing wage subsidy (Photo: Plantation Conversations)

BusinessJune 16, 2020

South Auckland workers picketing factory over claims of wage subsidy deception

Protesting the missing wage subsidy (Photo: Plantation Conversations)
Protesting the missing wage subsidy (Photo: Plantation Conversations)

The Covid-19 wage subsidy was designed to pay workers throughout the lockdown and keep them employed. None of that happened at one company, despite it receiving over $2.1m.

Workers who have lost their jobs at a South Auckland company are protesting the “deception” and lack of good faith that forced them to use up their own annual leave to survive throughout the level four lockdown.

Ventilation manufacturer Temperzone asked its workers in late March to sign a MSD consent form in order to apply for the wage subsidy. However, the company didn’t apply for the subsidy until five weeks later, forcing the workers to use their own annual leave, sick leave or leave in advance in order to continue feeding their families throughout the time the company was closed.

A spokesperson said the company initially thought it was not eligible for the subsidy, but after reviewing its “company format” applied on May 11, receiving $2.17m for 310 workers. The company subsequently culled 85 jobs across the business, including both management and factory positions, citing the impact of Covid-19.

“We value all our staff and their contribution hugely, unfortunately the impact of Covid-19 is such, that we are unable to protect them from this global issue,” the spokesperson said.

Temperzone confirmed the subsidy was being applied to the payment of staff for 12 weeks from the application date. However, because the company applied after its “restructure outcomes were clear”, the 85 redundant staff were not included in the application and therefore have not seen any subsidy payments.

Blue Rika, an E tū member representing the redundant workers told The Spinoff those still working at Temperzone didn’t know if they were receiving it either as the company was not issuing pay slips. “We don’t know whether they’re paying the people with that subsidy or not because no one is getting pay slips.”

Protestors outside Temperzone. (Photo: E tū)

Rika said because of Temperzone’s refusal to apply for the wage subsidy early on, the workers had been forced “under duress” to use their annual leave, depleting what would have been a valuable pool of resources for those who subsequently lost their jobs.

“They were deceived into using their leave,” he said. “The company said ‘we gave you a choice, you didn’t have to use it’, and our answer back was ‘we either feed our family and pay our bills or we don’t.’ What kind of choice is that? That wasn’t a choice at all,” he said.

When asked if Temperzone would accept the worker’s demands to reinstate their annual leave in light of receiving the wage subsidy, the company said it had moved quickly to provide opt-in options so staff could continue to receive their full pay over the lockdown, which was “above and beyond our collective agreement responsibilities and in compliance with the Holidays Act”.

The workers have so far held two pickets outside the Mangere premises with the aim of having their leave reinstated and the loss of wages during the lockdown reimbursed. Torrise Laulu, co-founder of the Pasifika advocacy group Plantation Conversations, was at the protests and said most of the workers were Māori or Pasifika and many had been with Temperzone for over 25 years.

“A lot of them are the main source of income for their families. And they really don’t know what to do now,” she said.

“Many of them were close to their retirement age, it’s really sad. I met a man who was 66 and he had been working there for 38 years, and he was made redundant and he was saying that he was planning for the 40-year service, working towards that then retiring after.”

Workers outside Temperzone. (Photo: E tū)

“A lot of the workers I was talking to, English isn’t their first language. So a lot of these workers probably didn’t even understand whatever Temperzone did was legal or not, but they’re just fighting because they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly.”

Laulu has started a petition to support the worker’s demands and she hopes as many people as possible attend the next protest on Saturday June 20.

“I just felt like a lot of them felt like they were in a really tricky position and their voices weren’t being heard. So I just wanted to give them a little platform to voice the injustice.”

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