Rhonda Van der Meij says her 20-year-old son would still be alive if he hadn't taken a job through Student Job Search.

Michael van der Meij is suspected to have committed suicide in October after a job at Highbury Bar and Cafe, on Auckland's North Shore, went badly wrong.

This came to light after Herald on Sunday investigations into Student Job Search (SJS), sparked by student David Tilson's claim he was used as slave labour by employers.

Michael had work experience with a catering company and a bar manager's licence. The SJS ad stated $14 an hour and 15 hours a week.


Van der Meij said her son was promised a contract when he started work. He turned up on the first day, a Friday, to find the bar in chaos.

"My son worked 32 hours over three days. He was left in sole charge and locked up the premises on two nights. On Monday he asked for his contract. The owner told him he wouldn't get one as he was doing work experience for free."

Cafe owner Mike McGurk said Michael had been on a short, unpaid trial because of concerns over his employment history and it had not worked out. He said Michael had said if he wasn't given the manager's position, he did not want to work at the bar. "But to be honest, we probably wouldn't have kept him on anyway."

McGurk said several people who applied through SJS had been trialled before they were offered a permanent job.

Van der Meij said Michael complained to SJS, which told him it could not do anything. He was told to contact the Department of Labour.

"Challenging a much older and past employer is a huge task and was daunting. My son felt overwhelmed."

Ten days later, he was dead.

Van der Meij said her son had suffered depression, although he hid it well. "[The job] was not the sole cause [of his death] but it was one."


After Michael's death, Van der Meij said the Department of Labour took over his case. "It is only through a chance finding of a piece of paper that I was able to find the number of the SJS ad and supply evidence to the Department of Labour. SJS have assisted me well."

Van der Meij said Student Job Search's system - matching employers and workers and basically leaving them to it - left students vulnerable.

"If my son had been treated with the care and respect that he and all workers are due I am sure he would be here today."

The Department of Labour confirmed it was investigating.

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