And if talks with their employers are unsuccessful, the issues can be settled by arbitration in the courts, says Drollet.
She was commenting on a story in Wednesday’s CI News in which lawyer Norman George asked the government to look into the latest round of complaints by foreign workers about being underpaid.
He said some people had been forced to quit working for their employers because they were not being paid well enough.
But Drollet says the ministry has not received any reports of contractors paying lower hourly rates than the minimum wage. However it has received enquiries regarding the minimum terms of conditions.
“The minimum wage is $6.50 an hour and the standard working week is 40 hours a week.
“If a worker believes that they are being underpaid and overworked, they have the legal right to raise this with their employer and can rely on minimum protections within the Employment Relations Act 2012.
“If workers that believe they are working in conditions below the minimum standards set out in the legislation, they can contact the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a lawyer or CIWA for advice on what steps are available to them.”
Cook Islands Workers Association general secretary Tuaine Maunga said CIWA would be more than happy to assist foreign workers who were encountering problems, in any way they could.
“My process is a face-to-face approach with those involved rather than having anonymous people attacking other parties who later prove to be innocent,” Maunga said.
“Through this process I would be able to give them better or more professional advice. “
Drollet said the Cook Islands 2012 Act gave significantly more protection to workers now than it had under the old Labour Ordinance 1964.
“Government modernised employment protection laws when it introduced the Employment Relations Act 2012.
“For the first time, minimum terms and conditions were introduced guaranteeing annual leave and sick leave entitlements and a disputes resolution process and mediation process was included to address grievances.”
Drollet commended the work done by some lawyers who have been providing employment advice to foreign workers.
“If they do not raise these issues, the process under the legislation is not given a fair chance to work.
“It is, however, great to see lawyers such as Norman George are receiving cases and providing advice on worker issues.”
Under the 2012 Cook Islands Employment Relations Act an employee is entitled to be paid at a fair and reasonable rate, not less than the minimum rate or rates of pay prescribed by the regulations.