The Employment Court has fined Matangi Berry Farm Limited and its director, Mr Jiubo Jiang, more than $127,000 for exploitation of workers.
In addition to the fines, the employer is paying nearly $43,000 to 207 workers for money owed to them in unpaid minimum wages and holiday pay.
The Labour Inspectorate found Matangi Berry Farm did not:
- provide employment agreements to workers
- keep proper records
- pay minimum wages, or annual and public holiday entitlements.
Mr Jiang is personally responsible for $40,800 of the penalties. In the judgement, Judge Corkill said, ignorance of the rules is no excuse.
Labour Inspectorate Horticulture Sector Lead Kevin Finnegan says, “Employment standards exist to protect vulnerable workers. People who run businesses that employ workers need to make sure they understand their obligations. Those new to New Zealand may need to seek advice to make sure they comply with the law.
“Exploitation of workers is not welcome in New Zealand and treating workers properly is becoming increasingly important around the world.
“While the penalties and arrears are a good result for the workers and the Labour Inspectorate, it raises serious questions about supply chain assurance.
“This grower sells produce 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.”
Mr Finnegan says this is the second significant case in two months that highlights exploitation of workers in the berry industry. The Olde Berry Farm Limited, that operated on the same orchard near Hamilton as Matangi, and its director have also been recently penalised by the Employment Relations Authority.
“This is disappointing, given the work the Inspectorate has undertaken with the horticulture sector to assist them with getting their employment practices on an assured and legal footing,” Mr Finnegan says.
Anyone concerned about their employment situation or someone else’s employment situation should contact Employment New Zealand where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.