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ACC minister expresses sympathy for West Auckland scaffolder who lost both arms after electric shock

Scaffolder Jahden Nelson, 28, remains in hospital after a worksite accident in Massey in April. Photo / Supplied The minister for ACC...

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Scaffolder Jahden Nelson, 28, remains in hospital after a worksite accident in Massey in April. Photo / Supplied

The minister for ACC has expressed her sympathy for a West Auckland scaffolder who lost both arms after suffering an electric shock and was left fighting for better compensation for his horrific injuries.

Carmel Sepuloni has also signalled changes to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

The Government today confirmed work is under way to strengthen employment law to prevent thousands of Kiwi workers being misclassified by their bosses as independent contractors, often disadvantaging them financially.

Jahden Nelson, 28, was critically injured when a pole he was holding touched high voltage overhead wires at a Massey worksite in April.

He suffered burns to 25-35 per cent of his body, has undergone about 30 operations, including the amputation of both arms, and remains in Middlemore Hospital’s burns unit.

Advocates for the father of three believe his employer Supercity Scaffolding classified him as a self-employed contractor for “tax purposes”. It means he is receiving hundreds of dollars a week less in ACC than he’d be eligible for if considered an employee.

Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford said he believes the situation is unfair and Nelson is being “ripped off” by the system.

Nelson’s lawyer Hazel Armstrong plans to challenge ACC’s determination and is calling for a law change to give ACC more discretion when assessing vulnerable applicants’ employment status.

Jahden Nelson with his baby daughter. He suffered an electric shock while working as a scaffolder in Massey. Photo / Supplied
Jahden Nelson with his baby daughter. He suffered an electric shock while working as a scaffolder in Massey. Photo / Supplied

First Union believes several hundred thousands workers may be wrongly recorded as contractors when in reality they are waged employees.

The union’s strategic project co-ordinator, Anita Rosentreter, said the problem was “rife” in certain industries like construction.

She said wrongly classified workers were missing out on minimum entitlements like statutory holiday pay, sick leave and KiwiSaver contributions.

Jahden Nelson was holding a scaffolding pole at this Massey worksite which touched overhead wires. Photo / Supplied
Jahden Nelson was holding a scaffolding pole at this Massey worksite which touched overhead wires. Photo / Supplied

“The worst case scenario is someone gets injured on the job and it’s going to be a disadvantage to them for the rest of their life.”

The Government needed to strengthen employment laws by toughening up the definition of an employee to safeguard the rights of Kiwi workers and prevent them being exploited by unscrupulous bosses, she said.

ACC Minister Sepuloni said Nelson’s injuries were horrific.

“I have the deepest sympathies for him and his family.”

ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni has expressed sympathy for Jahden Nelson and his family. Photo / NZME
ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni has expressed sympathy for Jahden Nelson and his family. Photo / NZME

ACC was following the relevant legislation in Nelson’s case and did not have the discretion to make decisions on an individual’s employment status, Sepuloni said.

“Under the Act whether or not someone is employed or self-employed as a contractor is determined by how they pay tax to Inland Revenue. It wouldn’t be appropriate for ACC to determine who is a contractor and who is an employee – the process and expertise for that sits with the Employment Relations Authority [ERA] and Employment Court.”

Sepuloni said Nelson and his legal team were taking the right course of action by challenging his employment status through the ERA.

“If they are successful it will provide a basis whereby ACC can change their decision.”

West Auckland scaffolder Jahden Nelson, 28, pictured with his baby daughter. Photo / Supplied
West Auckland scaffolder Jahden Nelson, 28, pictured with his baby daughter. Photo / Supplied

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood confirmed today that the minister planned to action a proposed law change to improve conditions for vulnerable workers this Parliamentary term.

The work was based on recommendations from the Tripartite Working Group for Better Protections for Contractors.

“The work is focused on clarifying the boundary between genuine commercial contracting and employment relationships. This clarification, along with appropriate enforcement, would reduce the incorrect classification of many vulnerable workers as contractors, and ensure those workers receive the minimum entitlements of employment.”

The Herald asked Supercity Scaffolding why Nelson was categorised as a contractor and whether the company was considering reclassifying his employment status in light of his compensation plight.

A lawyer representing the company said: “Having been made aware of the difficulties Jahden is experiencing with ACC, Supercity Scaffolding is committed to working with his lawyer to ensure the difficulties are resolved.”

Meanwhile, Nelson, 28 – who earned $27 an hour as a scaffolder – remains bedridden in hospital.

He is undergoing physiotherapy and learning to adjust to life with a significant disability. He is likely to remain in hospital for months and faces years of rehabilitation.

He told his mother Toni Paikea: “I want to see my babies. I don’t want to die.”

Paikea said her son’s recovery had stunned physicians and he was lucky to be alive.

“We’re still praying and hoping for a miracle.”



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