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11 November 2022

Immigration officers shouldn’t advice on employment contracts, says Elikana

Friday 1 March 2024 | Written by Candice Luke | Published in National, Parliament

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Immigration officers shouldn’t advice on employment contracts, says Elikana
Opposition Leader Tina Browne. Photo: LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 24021953 / 24021951

It is not the place of immigration officers to advise an employment relationship, Immigration Minister Tingika Elikana told Parliament yesterday.

In Parliament on Monday last week, Opposition Leader Tina Browne questioned the Government asking what is being done to protect the main employer of foreign workers, and what authority immigration officers have to make an employer amend their contractual relationship with a foreign employee.

Talking about her own experience, Browne said she went to the Immigration Office earlier in February to pay the yearly amount for a two-year contract.

She said an immigration officer then advised her to change the terms of the contract between the employer and the employee, prompting her questions to the Minister for Immigration.

In response, Elikana said: “Whether it is the duty of immigration officers to advise employers and employees what terms to include in their contract of employment, the short answer to that is it’s not the place for immigration officers to advise an employment relationship.”

“I invite the Leader of the Opposition to contact the principal immigration officer as I take this as a very serious matter.

“As it involves staff of the immigration department, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to talk to the principal immigration officer so that we don’t reveal the identity of the officer involved which she has dealt with. I think that should be a private matter between her and office staff.”

Responding to Browne’s question on the protection granted to the primary employer of a foreign worker in the event of the worker taking a secondary job, Elikana said that foreign employees come into this country either under sponsorship or direct sponsorship by their employer.

“As a result of that their primary obligation is to their sponsor or their primary employer, and the relationship between the employer and the foreign employee is governed by agreements or contracts of employment between those two parties,” he said.

“In respect of that part it’s very clear that the employee is obliged to the sponsor or primary employer. And since that relationship is governed by arrangements or a contract of employment then it’s up to those parties to exercise their rights under those agreements or contracts of employment.”

The sponsor or primary employer reserves the right to allow or decline a foreign employee’s engagement in secondary employment.

Elikana encouraged primary employers to re-look at their contracts and make amendments in the case that a foreign employee requested to work a second job.

“Where there are injuries sustained as a result of the secondary employment relationship then the new agreement or varied contract of employment should address those issues.”

Elikana said the policy allowing secondary employment was introduced by the Cook Islands Immigration because of the shortage of labour

“… but it’s subject to the consent of their sponsor or primary employer, because it is important for the sponsor or the primary employer to protect themself should anything happen during the secondary employment relationship.”

While raising her question, Browne referred to a Cook Islands News Letter to the Editor in relation to secondary employment.

In the letter, businesswoman Ellena Tavioni asked about the responsibility of secondary employers, the policies on paying income tax and contributions of primary employers.

Tavioni stated a list of difficulties and responsibilities in bringing foreign workers into the country. Time, risk, finances and responsibilities sit on the shoulders of the primary employer, causing Tavioni to question what responsibilities, risks and contributions lie with secondary employers.

“I’m afraid this is only another cheap tactic for business owners looking for cheaper avenues to increase their profits at the expense of other businesses.

“I've had enough of immoral poachers.  Pay your way,” she signed off.