Vineyard pay 'a rip-off'

A 24-year-old German backpacker who believes she was hoodwinked by vineyard contractors in Marlborough wants to warn others to stand up for their rights.

The woman was on a New Zealand holiday work visa and has since returned to Germany. During her time here she searched for jobs online, in newspapers and on backpacker hostel notice boards, eventually finding vineyard work in Marlborough.

She worked for vineyard contractors AHV Contracting, Vine Strength and Singh Services during July and August but left each of the wrapping jobs after becoming dissatisfied with her pay, she said.

"They didn't want to pay fair money," she told the Express in August.

Friends had initially warned her about the work conditions of some contractors.

She knew many backpackers who claimed to have been underpaid by contractors, but her biggest gripe was a $100 bond for tools supplied by AHV Contracting that had not been paid back.

Her contract said the money deducted was a bond, but on her payslip it appeared confusingly as "tools deduction".

"My contractor cut money from my pay as a bond and said that they would pay it back when I quit," she said.

"When I and a few other girls quit, we gave our bags and tools back and have never seen our money again. We wrote plenty of emails. Their answer was that they don't cut a bond from pay, but the problem is that I can see it on my pay slip.

"Most backpackers don't know their rights so that's why it's easy for contractors to do it."

Vine Strength director Ajay Gaur and Singh Services director Prubhjit Singh said language barriers were largely to blame for workers who believe they were being "ripped off".

All employees were paid fairly and employment conditions were explained if anyone was unclear, they said.

Misunderstandings included pay issues around start times and breaks.

"Sometimes they think the start time is when we pick them up from the hostel, but this is not correct," Mr Singh said.

"We tell them they get paid when they start work in the vineyard."

If employees had a problem, they needed to speak to employers, he said. If this did not resolve the matter, they needed to go to the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry.

Instead of taking further action, many foreign workers tended to change contractors whenever they were unhappy with working conditions, he said.

AHV Contracting co-director Justin Campbell said they were unable to comment on individual staff members because of the Privacy Act.

A ministry spokesman said the number of complaints laid by vineyard workers was decreasing, from 120 in 2009 and 26 to date this year. It estimates that 4000 vineyard workers are employed in New Zealand.

Complaints lodged included not being paid minimum wage or not receiving holiday pay, he said.

Employees and employers were encouraged to try to resolve problems. However, some cases required a full investigation while others were referred to the Employment Relations Authority.