Convicted contractor can remain

A horticulture contractor who used illegal migrant workers to pick fruit in the Nelson region and underpaid them has been sentenced to nine months' home detention, but won't be deported.

Bun Thuon Lam, who underpaid the Vietnamese workers by up to $7000 each, appeared in the Nelson District Court and was sentenced to 200 hours' community work and ordered to pay $10,000 reparation, to be divided between the six workers.

However, Lam, a Vietnamese national, won't be deported, because he has New Zealand residency.

Immigration New Zealand said the sentencing for hiring illegal migrant workers who were paid less than the minimum wage sent a strong message to employers who might contemplate employing migrants who were not entitled to work here.

"The orchard owner is equally responsible to ensure that people on their orchards are entitled to work in New Zealand," said Immigration NZ's acting fraud and compliance manager, Dean Blakemore.

They could check the validity of visas through Immigration NZ's online Visa View service, he said.

Lam admitted five charges under the Immigration Act relating to aiding and abetting people to remain in New Zealand unlawfully or to breach a condition of their visa.

The court heard that he employed the six in the horticulture industry, knowing they were unlawfully in New Zealand.

The workers were not paid the minimum wage, were not paid regularly, and did not receive holiday pay. None had employment contracts, and no wage or time records were kept.

A Labour Inspectorate analysis estimated that they were underpaid between $5000 and $7000 each.

The inspectorate had previously taken Lam to the Employment Relations Authority.

In May 2011, the ERA ordered Lam to pay five of the workers a total of $36,938 in unpaid wages, minimum wage arrears, holiday pay, and for failing to provide individual employment agreements, and making deductions without obtaining written authority from the employees.

Mr Blakemore said Lam, who was still in the region, had so far paid $10,000.

The workers would be paid, even though they had worked illegally, because they were deemed to be victims of exploitation, he said.

They had been living in Motueka, and had remained there pending the court decision. They would soon be sent home.

Mr Blakemore said the employment of illegal migrant workers would not be tolerated.

"This case shows that the consequences of such behaviour are serious.

"We will take swift action against any employer who is involved in such activity."

He urged anyone who knew of illegal workers or cases of exploitation to come forward.

Mr Blakemore said the case was a good example of close collaboration between Immigration NZ fraud and compliance staff and the Labour Inspectorate of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

"The ministry is treating this issue as a priority, and INZ and labour inspectors' compliance activity is being increased.

"Most employers and most migrant workers are complying with the laws of New Zealand. They are being undermined, and New Zealand's reputation sullied, by some who are breaking the law."

The Nelson Mail