Farms face fair wage inspection

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 20/08/2013

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The Government is advising southern farm owners to ensure employees are paid for the hours they work.

Yesterday the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced its Labour Inspectorate would visit Southland farms to check compliance with minimum employment rights, with particular focus on salary averaging and the accuracy of time and wage records.

Ministry Labour Inspectorate southern regional manager Antoinette Baker said averaging out pay across a season, especially for workers earning low salaries, was likely to breach legislation.

Employees should be receiving at least the minimum wage for the hours worked and not as averaged across a season, she said.

Farmers who did not keep accurate time and wage records were also unlikely to meet their obligations for the payment of public and other holidays, she said.

A breach of minimum employment rights could attract fines of up to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for a company.

Federated Farmers Southland president Russell MacPherson said he believed that most farmers were complying with legal requirements, and because of the seasonal nature of the work, there had to be some give and take.

Salary averaging ensured workers were paid the same amount through the non-busy season, when they might only be working 20 hours a week, as they were during spring time, when they could put in 50 hours a week, he said.

"I'm not going to say it [incorrect payment] doesn't happen . . . but on the whole, I think farm workers are very well paid. Most farmers are doing it correctly."

In the past, farmers had sometimes been lax at keeping records, but he encouraged employers to write everything down so if a problem did arise, they were able to check their records, he said.

Venture Southland settlement support co-ordinator Eirlys Beverley-Stone said she had not received any complaints about low pay or long hours from migrants working on farms in Southland, but would refer any received in future to Community Law.

To obtain a New Zealand Visa, migrants had to provide Immigration New Zealand with a job application including salary and working hours information, so any illegal payment should be picked up then, she said.

The Dairy Workers' Union could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The ministry Labour Inspectorate has not yet indicated when it will be visiting southern farms. 

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- The Southland Times

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