The Cook Islands became a member state of the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency specialising in Labour, in 2015.
In her report Thondoo said Labco was often involved in answering questions, settling disputes between workers and employers, inspections of work sites, and awareness raising activities in relation to migrant workers.
She said the department’s mandate was to “advocate, implement, and monitor compliance with Cook Islands law relating to migrant workers.
“Migrant workers are people who either migrate within their home country or outside to pursue work (including seasonal work); they usually do not have the intention to stay permanently in the country or region in which they work.
“Migrant workers may also be referred as foreign workers or expatriates.”
Thondoo’s report focused on issues including respecting human rights including the labour rights of all migrants, the need for strong and coherent employment and labour migration policies and laws as well as maintaining a balance between national and the migrant workforce and equality
She said that at present, the rights of migrant workers were not fully covered by Cook Islands legislation.
She gave a number of examples of problems faced by migrant workers in this country. Some had signed contracts overseas for a certain pay rate, but had found that shortly after their arrival in the Cook Islands, the rate had been reduced without any previouis consultation.
Yet another problem was the number of deductions made from migrant workers’ weekly wages without prior discussion or agreement and migrant workers failing to renew their contracts after their first year of the employment and continuing working, but in fear of their illegal status.
There was a lack of awareness and compliance with the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 2012 from both the employers and workers, she added.
Thondoo’s report noted other problems with breaches of contracts including the provision of minimum terms and conditions, illegal wage deductions, problems with annual leave, unfair dismissal and failure by employers to provide payslips
There were issues also with immigration processes including the provision of work permits, deductions for bond and repatriation, poor internal administration and problems with recruitment processes and human resource management.
In some cases, Thondoo said, there was an absence of decent and fair working conditions with workers facing unsafe work environments, harassment, discrimination, verbal abuse, threats, and retaliation.
An efficient internal dispute resolution system was also lacking in the Cook Islands, she added.
“Employers, too encounter problems, concerning temporary employees brought into the country, such as when the employer discovers that the workers’ skills and experience as described in their curriculum vitae do not match their actual performance in the job.”
Thondoo said that since the end of 2016, 250 queries about employment problems had been addressed by Labco, and over 45 disputes resolved.
Thondoo’s report said the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) National Reform Research and Scoping report is now ready after extensive consultations since May this year.
The policy is due for January 2019 legislative drafting instructions and there will be ample opportunities for consultation on the policy document and drafting instructions.
The report said the ILO’s “Decent Work Country Programme” was a plan of action being targeted for the next five years, and a draft was currently in process.
The programme’s priorities were listed as advancing labour law reform, improving labour administration in line with international labour standards; Enhancing labour force development and opportunities for inclusive growth and improved employment prospects and promoting social dialogue and tripartism, while also strengthening representative employers’ and workers’ organisations.
“The upcoming new Immigration Bill supports implementation of decent work principles for MW and better collaboration with Immigration services,” the report said.
“Working together our country can maximise on the benefits of labour migration by building an agenda for fair migration which not only respects the fundamental rights of migrant workers, but also offers them real opportunities for decent work.”