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September 20, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Employment Law

Most of us cannot get through our university years without having to resort to putting ourselves through the dreaded experience of working a part-time job we despise. Sometimes we’re lucky and the job can turn out to be a pretty sweet deal with good work-mates, a decent hourly rate and a fair boss. Other times, it can turn into a nightmare. But whether you are working part-time or full-time, in a permanent position or fixed-term, and even if you are on a 90-day trial period, there are some minimum rights your employer cannot derogate from.

Employment rights are theoretically a one way street. There are minimum standards relating to the hourly rate you can expect, the conditions you can be expected to work in, and the way you must be treated at work. Employers cannot legally force you to agree to anything lower than the minimum standards, but you can agree to standards that are better than the minimum. This is the way it should be too, since employers generally have all the bargaining power when it comes to dealing with students needing cash to pay their rent, their expenses and their partying. The problem is that not all employers will abide by the rules.

Obviously, your employer needs to pay you the minimum wage (currently $12.75 an hour). Holiday is on top of this, not part of it, and can either be paid as you go or as a lump sum at the end of each year of employment. Either way you need to get an additional eight per cent of your pay on top of your actual wages. This can be a decent wad of cash to miss out on when you leave so make sure you get it! If your employer isn’t paying you the minimum wage or is refusing holiday pay, the Department of Labour has inspectors who can investigate and recover any money owed, or for a less drastic option, you can see a mediator.

Sick leave is a little more complicated. If you have worked for your employer for six months continuously, you should be entitled to sick leave whether you work full- or part-time and whether you are employed permanently or on a fixed-term basis. Even if the employment has not been continuous, you still qualify for sick leave if you have worked an average of ten hours per week over the last six months, and you worked at least one hour each week or 40 hours each month. We all know that we should get at least time-and-a-half for working a public holiday but you are also entitled to a paid day off if the public holiday falls on a day that you would normally work. And if you would normally work that day but don’t, you are entitled to be paid.

In terms of working conditions, your employer must provide a safe working environment and you have the right to refuse work likely to cause yourself serious harm. You also have a responsibility to look after yourself. So if your employer expects you to lift those 100 tonne boxes, you have a right to say no if you’re going to put your back out. You are also entitled to one ten-minute paid rest break per four hours of work and one unpaid 30-minute meal if you work more than four hours. Sadly, the paid meal break is not an entitlement and only a bonus if you happen to have a good boss.

If you have any concerns about how you are being treated in employment, check out the Employment Relations Website of the Department of Labour to find out your rights: http://www.ers.dol.govt.nz/.

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