Business

Tesla vows to address labour issues after report alleges cheap and unsafe jobs for foreign workers

Tesla says it will look into allegations that a subcontractor at one of its paint facilities was paid as little as $5 US an hour in an unsafe work environment.

Company's response comes after story of Slovenian man injured on the job at Tesla site

Elon Musk says he will 'make it right' after allegations that some of his company's subcontractors are running afoul of labour standards. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Tesla says it will look into allegations that a subcontractor at one of its paint facilities was paid as little as $5 US an hour in an unsafe work environment.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, Tesla has gotten around U.S. labour laws by getting subcontractors to bring in foreign workers and paying them below market rates in often unsafe conditions.

The report is told through the story of Gregor Lesnik, a Slovenian man who was hired by one of the electric carmaker's subcontractors to work in a paint facility.

Ostensibly coming to the U.S. in a supervisory role at a BMW plant in South Carolina, Lesnik instead found himself working in numerous hands-on positions at Tesla's facility in California, which led him to have many injuries, including two broken legs and a concussion suffered during a third-storey fall.

He was one of 140 foreign workers who came to the country to work for Tesla subcontractors either with tourist visas or business visas, known as B1/B2 visas, the report alleges, often paying them as little as $5 an hour as independent contractors without benefits or other protections.

American workers performing similar jobs in that part of the country earn an average of $52 US an hour, data from the Government of California shows.

Tesla reportedly hired a German firm called Eisenmann for its experience with paint facilities, and that company subcontracted the work to another firm called ISM Vuzem.

Tesla put out a formal statement after the article came out which acknowledged mistakes were made, and that steps were being taken to rectify them.

"We are taking action to address this individual's situation and to put in place additional oversight to ensure that our workplace rules are followed even by sub-subcontractors to prevent such a thing from happening again," Tesla said.

"We need to give Mr. Lesnik the benefit of the doubt and we need to take care of him. We will make sure this happens. We do not condone people coming to work at a Tesla facility, whether they work for us, one of our contractors or even a sub-subcontractor, under the circumstances described in the article."

"If Mr. Lesnik or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour, that is totally unacceptable," the statement read, ending with the claim that the company would never allow "the wrong thing to happen just to save money."

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