Proposed safety check regime for public sector workers problematic

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The Public Service Association believes proposed legislation which would see hundreds of thousands of workers screened and vetted is problematic and needs more work.

The Vulnerable Children Bill sets up a screening and vetting regime which will affect an estimated 376,000 public sector workers whose work brings them into contact with children.

This Bill is of significant interest to the PSA as it will involve thousands of members who work in state and contracted services.

In its submission to the select committee considering the legislation the PSA agrees that the protection of children from abuse must be a priority in New Zealand.

“We completely support the aim of reducing the risk of harm to children by requiring people employed or engaged in work that involves regular contact with children to be safety checked but there are some problems around how this Bill proposes to achieve that goal,” says PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott.

The PSA submission expresses concern that the safety checking process is not transparent enough and there are no balancing employment law protections in place for workers. There is also no mechanism to ensure government departments work together and produce a consistent approach to screening and vetting.

 “One of the worries is that some workers may face unsubstantiated allegations which have not been proven, yet they may be forced out of work or denied employment,” says Brenda Pilott.

The PSA is recommending that any negative information that comes to light about a worker or prospective worker in the screening process be brought to the attention of the person concerned, and they should then have a right to reply and an opportunity to correct the information where appropriate.

The broad scope of the screening and vetting is also a concern and it’s not clear exactly who would be captured under the legislation.

Brenda Pilott says “it’s not clear for example whether a DOC ranger who only occasionally supervises groups of children staying overnight in a DOC hut would have to be safety checked.  For that reason we are recommending that the Bill be amended to make clear to both employers and employees who exactly is caught by the legislation.”

The cost of screening also appears to have been under-estimated and there could be an unfair cost burden placed on non-government organisations.  The PSA wants to see something in the legislation to ensure that cost of compliance of screening and vetting is picked up by the government and not passed onto other organisations, or employee.