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Canterbury grower fined $26,000 for employment law breaches against seasonal workers

Canterbury employer Christopher Gray, trading as Motukarara Asparagus, has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to pay $26,000 in penalties for employment law breaches.

This is in addition to $54,000 he was ordered to repay to 13 former employees last year.

The Labour Inspectorate conducted an audit of Mr Gray’s business, and found that in 2017, employees were paid a piece rate based on the amount of asparagus that they picked. This meant their payments fell below the minimum wage for some of the hours worked.

Other breaches included failure by the employer to provide for public holidays, a failure to obtain written consents for deductions from wages and to keep compliant holiday and leave records.

“These failures are especially disappointing given most of the employees were seasonal migrant workers,” says Kevin Finnegan, Labour Inspectorate/Recognised Seasonal Employer Manager.

“This employer’s conduct falls unacceptably short of what is expected of a Recognised Seasonal Employer.

“Paying the minimum wage is a basic legal requirement. Where employers use a piece rate, they need to have a system to ensure workers get paid at least the minimum wage for all hours worked. That means payments may need to be topped up to at least the minimum wage.

“Keeping accurate written records for hours worked, leave taken and any other agreements made is equally important. Without it employers are unable to demonstrate compliance with the law.”

Mr Gray’s status as a Recognised Seasonal Employer had not been renewed.

The Labour Inspectorate encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know, to phone the Ministry’s service centre on 0800 20 90 20 where concerns are handled in a safe environment.

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