Kiwifruit industry sting reveals workers ripped off

The kiwifruit industry needs a lot of migrant labour.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

The kiwifruit industry needs a lot of migrant labour.

More than half of the employers targeted by a recent kiwifruit industry sting were found to have breached their obligations – and one owed employees more than $25,000.

A Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment Labour Inspectorate operation targeted the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty.

Inspectors audited 62 labour contracting companies and interviewed 682 employees over three months last year.

They found 94 breaches of minimum employment standards.

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More than half the employers did not meet all minimum employment standards, including things such as providing employment agreements and paying the minimum wage.

Some employers were able to immediately address the breaches but 20 improvement notices and six enforceable undertakings were issued.

Two employers were issued with an infringement notice in addition to their improvement notice for $1000 each.

"There are no acceptable excuses for employers failing to meet all minimum standards or provide people with all their minimum entitlements," said Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan.

"Almost all of the employers found in breach were using migrant labour, which is concerning because these are vulnerable people who may not fully know their rights and entitlements. Significant arrears were uncovered with one employer owing more than $25,000 to their employees, and it's likely the lack of records is disguising more widespread non-compliance with minimum wage.

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"While finding these breaches has been really disappointing it comes as little surprise, as it's an issue we've raised with the industry for a number of years.

"Without demanding greater assurance from labour hire companies about their employment practices, growers won't know if people working on their vines are receiving their entitlements," he said.

"We understand that since this operation the kiwifruit industry has taken steps to lift compliance with employment legislation – and we strongly encourage them to continue to do so. As an industry with high growth and an increasing demand for migrant labour, it's important these issues are tackled now, as little or no action will only allow the problem to grow."

He said cases such as this had the potential to damage New Zealand's reputation, which was important when consumers wanted ethically-sourced produce.

 - Stuff

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