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HomeNew ZealandFoodbag firm Woop tells hearing any employment breaches unintentional

Foodbag firm Woop tells hearing any employment breaches unintentional

Beef, chicken and salmon in vacuum plastic bag for sous vide cooking, copy space

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The Employment Relations Authority has heard allegations that Woop food bag company exploited some of its workers (file picture).
Photo: 123RF

The Employment Relations Authority has concluded its hearing on evidence of alleged worker exploitation by New Zealand food bag company Woop.

The authority heard allegations of worker exploitation in Auckland over the past two days.

The allegations were made after international student work experience internships with the company in 2018.

Interns who had come from overseas complained about their internship agreements, which stipulated 20 hours’ work and 20 hours’ learning.

Woop, founded by French foodie Thomas Dietz, paid the interns for 20 hours of work.

By providing financial support to the interns, Woop created a situation that breached New Zealand employment legislation.

The Labour Inspectorate also said the agreements did not meet employment standards.

Earlier today, the authority was told that breaches in employee entitlement by Woop were negligent rather than deliberate.

Woop’s counsel, Peter Kiely, argued the inspectorate had failed to sufficiently investigate the complaints it had originally received.

Witness Emilie Woodd – a new labour inspector at the time – said there was a failure to pay employees their minimal entitlements.

She said that while some interns were happy with the arrangement, that did not change the fact they were owed entitlements.

In a statement to RNZ, Woop said it discontinued the internship programme as soon as it was made aware of the breaches.

At the time the programme was terminated, 20 interns had participated.

Woop said that it had since repaid affected interns with interest.

During cross-examination, Woop’s counsel questioned why the inspectorate pursued penalties when some interns did not expect further compensation.

The Labour Inspectorate explained that they were not acting on behalf of the interns but instead as the decision makers on the issue.

While presenting evidence to the authority, Woop chief executive Thomas Dietz said that the investigation undertaken by inspectorate was unfair to the company.

He explained the company tried to be as cooperative as possible during the investigation.

Cross-examining Dietz, applicant co-counsel Tim Gray alleged that the company did not pay interns fairly.

Gray told the authority Woop had the opportunity to pay interns at least the minimum hourly wage, but did not.

There was no maximum pay limit set by Woop, he said.

Gray also alleged that Woop wielded its power over its interns, threatening to go back and discuss their behaviour with their respective schools.

Dietz said he absolutely disagreed with this point.

The hearing concluded today, and the authority will receive first submissions from the Labour Inspectorate in two weeks.

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