A letter from a contractor saying only New Zealand employees could take Waitangi Day off was very poorly expressed and could be illegal, a law employment expert says.
In the email, engineers working for CPB Contractors were told: "If you are not from [New Zealand] then all engineers should be in work tomorrow and use this day to catch up," workers were told.
The employees were working on the Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington. The project is a public-private partnership involving the NZTA and a number of private contractors, including CPB.
"If you are from [New Zealand] and Waitangi Day is just another public holiday then I would appreciate if you are also at work," the Herald reported the email as saying.
"Those of you from [New Zealand] who feel it is important to have the day off then please enjoy your time off."
A screenshot of the email was sent to the Herald, and NZTA has since confirmed its content to Newshub.
"NZTA recognises the importance of Waitangi Day for everyone in New Zealand," said senior manager project delivery Andrew Thackwray.
"We are disappointed that an email sent by an employee of one of our contractors (CPB) suggests otherwise."
Dr William Hodge, a law employment expert at the University of Auckland, told Newshub the email "signals an intent to discriminate on grounds of national origin", which is illegal under both the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act.
Dr Hodge said "since time is frequently of the essence in their construction contractors" employers do have the right to force employees to work on public holidays if it is in their collective or individual agreement.
"The problem here is not that requirement, the problem is that it seems to be 'expected' that some – those from overseas – will work and others can enjoy their day off.
"I think it is very poor expression."
Despite that, Dr Hodge said he believed it was a matter of wording, rather than intent.
"To me, the proper response would not be a prosecution in this case..but a warning to take care in how you invite workers, and treat all workers the same."