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Southland dairy farmer “wilfully blind” to employment obligations, penalised $30,000 for breaches

Southland dairy farmer Christoph Kenel was ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to pay $30,000 in penalties.

The penalties were for failing to comply with the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Holidays Act 2003.

Christoph Kenel operated Swiss Farm in Winton as a sole trader, employing multiple workers, including those on working holidays. 

The Labour Inspectorate, part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) investigated Mr Kenel in 2019 after receiving a complaint from a former employee about not receiving a written employment agreement and being paid less than the statutory minimum wage. 

Mr Kenel did not keep holiday and leave records for any of his employees, and three employees did not receive final holiday pay on termination of their employment. At least one employee did not get paid time and a half or receive an alternative holiday for working on a public holiday. Due to inadequate holiday and leave records it was not possible to know the extent to which other employees did not receive their holiday and leave entitlements. 

The Inspectorate found that of the seventeen people Mr Kenel employed between September 2018 and September 2019, only one had an employment agreement which they had supplied themselves. Furthermore, the wages and time records lacked sufficient detail, which made it impossible to tell whether workers had been paid at least the minimum wage. 

The ERA determination noted that record-keeping, as well as being a legal requirement, is “central to building productive employment relationships.” 

The ERA determined the breaches were intentional and Mr Kenel “took no steps throughout his history as an employer in New Zealand to familiarise himself with his legal obligations” and was “wilfully blind.” 

Labour Inspectorate dairy sector strategy lead Callum McMillan says the dairy farming industry is a focus area for the Labour Inspectorate. 

“It’s not enough that employers take a passive approach to compliance with employment standards. Employers have a responsibility to get the basics right no matter how long they’ve been operating. 

“The industry has taken some steps over the last few years by setting expectations and establishing assurance systems, and has support readily available for farmers on matters of employment. This makes it even more disappointing that there are still dairy farmers who are failing to get the minimum requirements right, and raises a question around the due diligence the industry has in place,” Mr McMillan says. 

A free and easy to use Employment Agreement Builder tool is available on MBIE’s business.govt.nz website. 

Employment Agreement Builder – business.govt.nz (external link)

MBIE encourages anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.

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