A Labour Inspectorate operation targeting the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty has found the majority of labour hire contractors are breaching their obligations as employers.
Inspectors carried out audits on 62 labour contracting companies and interviewed 687 employees during the operation, which occurred over three months last year, ultimately uncovering 94 breaches of minimum employment standards.
The operation showed 53 per cent of employers were failing to meet all minimum employment standards, such as providing employment agreements and paying at least the minimum wage.
While some employers were able to immediately address the breaches, 20 improvement notices and six enforceable undertakings were issued to compel employers to meet their obligations.
Two employers were issued with an infringement notice in addition to their improvement notice for $1000 each.
“There are no acceptable excuses for employers failing to meet all minimum standards or provide people with all their minimum entitlements,” says Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan.
“Almost all of the employers found in breach were using migrant labour, which is concerning because these are vulnerable people who may not fully know their rights and entitlements.
“Significant arrears were uncovered with one employer owing more than $25,000 to their employees, and it’s likely the lack of records is disguising more widespread non-compliance with minimum wage.
“While finding these breaches has been really disappointing it comes as little surprise, as it’s an issue we’ve raised with the industry for a number of years.
“Without demanding greater assurance from labour hire companies about their employment practices, growers won’t know if people working on their vines are receiving their entitlements.
“We understand that since this operation the kiwifruit industry has taken steps to lift compliance with employment legislation – and we strongly encourage them to continue to do so.
“As an industry with high growth and an increasing demand for migrant labour, it’s important these issues are tackled now, as little or no action will only allow the problem to grow.
“These kinds of cases have the potential to damage New Zealand’s reputation as fair and equitable, which is important with consumers increasingly demanding products are ethically sourced.”
MBIE encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation, or the situation of someone they know, to call the contact centre on 0800 20 90 20 where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.