Battle for a living wage: Couple win battle with cleaning company

By Kate Shuttleworth

Manu Fotu, with her daughter Achorite, says she couldn't sleep at night after she lost her job.  Photo /  Sarah Ivey
Manu Fotu, with her daughter Achorite, says she couldn't sleep at night after she lost her job. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Manu Fotu is adamant the "vulnerable workers" law should remain intact.

She works two jobs to make ends meet after her husband lost his cleaning job.

She works eight hours for Professional Property Services during the day and works up to five hours a night cleaning Taylors College in central Auckland.

She earns $17.30 an hour, which is well above what she has earned in the past.

Manu and her husband Aisea and their daughter Achorite, 7, live in Mt Roskill. They took a case against industry giant Crest Commercial Cleaning - and won.

Both of them worked for Professional Property Services cleaning Taylors College last year, originally earning only $13.50 an hour and working 12.5 hours a week.

Crest took over the contract and they were entitled by law to transfer their employment across to Crest.

They turned up to work, thinking they would meet their new employer, but found Crest managing director Grant McLauchlan had dismissed them, saying he had not received adequate documentation from their previous employer about them wanting to transfer.

They took a personal grievance case against Crest, saying they had been unjustifiably dismissed from their roles as cleaners at Taylors College.

They won. Mr Fotu was awarded $2193 in lost wages and $4500 compensation and Mrs Fotu was awarded $3071 and $4500 compensation.

The Employment Relations Authority found the couple were entirely blameless. Authority chief Alastair Dumbleton criticised Mr McLauchlan for using vulnerable workers as "pawns" in a campaign to change the law.

Mrs Fotu says that when she lost her job she was embarrassed to ask family for money. Things are better now, but it is still difficult because her husband lost his job. "When Crest took over, I felt stressed because I lost my income and I had to try and make sure my family had enough to live.

"I couldn't sleep at night, I had things I'd bought that I couldn't pay for.

"I thought how would I feed my family."

- APNZ

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