2 Dec 2021

MIQ health and safety reps left waiting 11 months for training, union says

10:18 am on 2 December 2021

An MIQ hotel health and safety representative says problems with escapees are not being addressed because the system neglects workers.

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An MIQ facility. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment admits it's a "gap" it is now addressing.

This is after it failed for months to ensure that union hotel worker reps at a dozen Auckland MIQ hotels were trained as required by law.

The hotels should have had committees including representatives from security guards, health and hotel workers, meeting since well over a year ago - a vital "canary in the mine" safeguard for raising warnings about holes and gaps.

Kumar has been a rep at an Auckland MIQ hotel since March. He has had zero training and not been consulted at all, he told RNZ.

"No training has been given us.

"There's a lot of escapees coming out a few months back. There were chances to talk about it, you know - how can we stop and all those things," Kumar said.

"There's other things which I could have brought it up ... given chance ... but not given chance to bring it up in a meeting."

The ministry told him and other hotel worker reps back in March how crucial they are to safe MIQ operations.

Kumar dismissed this.

"This ministry, they are just waiting for some big accident happen, then they will open their eyes.

"Then it will be too late, that is the thing."

There was no other hotel worker rep but him at his site, he added.

The Unite union said it had struggled since March to get the ministry to address neglect of hotel worker reps - as opposed to security guard and health workers who were well represented among the 120 trained health and safety reps nationwide, it said.

This was despite hotel workers being the most vulnerable - cleaners, cooks, and the like, mostly women, older and migrant or Māori or Pasifika - organiser Shanna Reeder said.

She told MBIE in a meeting yesterday just one of the dozen unionised hotel worker reps had been trained, and others were not being included in meetings on committees set up many months ago.

The ministry embarked on a "spiel" about having 40 or so trained hotel reps, she said, but added these were mostly managers, not frontline workers.

"If you're not involving your workers in the health and safety process, it's not a real health and safety process."

The Joint Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Brigadier Rose King said talks with unions had identified this "gap" and it would prioritise training for hotel worker reps and meetings to include them.

The ministry declined an interview.

The contract with hotels included ongoing monitoring of health and safety performance, King said in a statement.

"MIQ actively monitors and engages with HSRs from all facilities that have expressed interest in supporting MIQ worker participation," she said.

The ministry hasn't done any HSR training in Auckland since August, citing the lockdown. This does not explain the lack of training prior to August.

Fifty people are awaiting training.

The union questioned why hotels did not simply train people online in lockdown, but the King said face-to-face training is better.

Only trained HSRs can issue notices - called provisional improvement notices or PINs - that draw urgent attention to alleged safety breaches, and must be acted upon.

RNZ reported almost a year ago that there had been a struggle to get health and safety committees set up in the first place, at a time when workers had already been exposed to Covid risks for months.

Reeder said officials were blasé.

"It's very hard to understand why they have failed to simply identify these workers," she said.

"We've given them their contact details. All they need to do is simply invite them to the meeting.

"I have raised it with them repeatedly over the last year. I feel it's a little bit of an annoyance - they just don't see it as important that these people participate."

Unite wrote to a dozen Auckland MIQ hotels last week.

"The Worker Participation Agreement states that training will be available within three months of training being requested. They have so far been waiting 11 months," Reeder told them.

She heard back from one, the Pullman Hotel, which promptly invited its hotel worker rep to a health and safety meeting yesterday.

RNZ's request to hear from the Pullman was fielded by the Defence Force, which did not respond further.

The worker participation agreement is currently under review.

Emails show that back in March, the ministry had written to reps saying: "HSRs are the voice for workers on health, safety and wellbeing.

"Through this role, you will help improve our MIQF safety culture."

It told Kumar: "MBIE has secured funding to provide you with training to become a HSR to the unit standard 29315 required. MBIE will assist you by liaising with the contracted provider and your employer/manager, to achieve this."

In November, when Kumar protested he had been left out of meetings and had no training, the ministry told him it was "sorry you are so upset" and to contact his manager himself. The union says that's hard given the power imbalance.

The ministry said it had identified 103 hotel HSRs in total at the 33 MIQ facilities nationwide, with 46 of them trained.

RNZ asked if it was happy that fewer than half had been trained, and awaits a response.

Auckland has 48 trained HSRs in total; the central region 36; and southern region 55.

"Auckland is prioritised for the next training when parties are clear on how to operate under the Covid-19 protection framework," King said.

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