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Grower failures undermining horticulture industry efforts

Employment and immigration breaches found in Hastings and Pukekohe during a proactive investigation into horticulture work conditions have alarmed Labour Inspectors and Immigration Officers.

The Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand (both part of MBIE) visited two Pukekohe vegetable farms and one orchard in Hawke’s Bay to check whether businesses followed the legal requirements in respect of their employees. The visits are part of a proactive programme to check compliance in the horticulture sector.

Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager, Kevin Finnegan, says problems were found at all three locations. “This is a very disappointing outcome and shows growers are failing due diligence on the contractors they use for labour,” says Mr Finnegan.

A number of contractors operating on the Fresh Grower Ltd and Hira Bhana & Co Ltd farms in Pukekohe had no employment agreements for their employees, and were allegedly paying them no more than $14.50 an hour in cash – significantly below the current minimum wage. One contractor had migrant employees working illegally on visitors’ visas.

“Despite being members of the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association and purporting to have an assurance programme in place, the growers failed to ensure workers in their supply chains were treated fairly and in accordance with the law.

“To be effective, it is imperative that any assurance scheme incorporates proper treatment of workers. There are recognised certification schemes for labour standards supported by the horticulture sector, and growers need to be adopting these and implementing them robustly.

“These growers sell their produce directly to supermarkets, which also compromises the supply chain of those supermarkets. Ultimately, this compromises supermarket customers who do not expect unlawful and exploitative practices to be associated with the fresh produce they purchase.

“This is a poor result, considering the Inspectorate has been working extensively with the horticulture sector to assist them with getting their employment practices on an assured and legal footing,” says Mr Finnegan.

The visit to Hope Orchard in Hastings also uncovered a number of migrant workers without legal working visas. The Labour Inspectorate is still investigating the two contractors that were found working on this orchard.

Immigration New Zealand’s General Manager, Verification and Compliance, Stephen Vaughan, says it’s very concerning that seven people were working in breach of their visas in Hastings and four in Pukekohe. Eight of the workers were issued warnings, two were taken into custody for deportation and one was issued a notice making him liable for deportation.

”This is a stark reminder to contractors to ensure that all their workers are legally able to work and if they’re from overseas that they have their right visas,” Mr Vaughan says. “We will not tolerate contractors flouting the law and will take strong action when they do.”

Enforcement action against the employers is still being finalised.

The Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand will continue targeted work in this sector and hold those who breach the laws to task.

MBIE is also leading a review to reduce the exploitation of temporary migrant workers (external link) .

Anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know should contact Employment New Zealand where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.