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.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers says it's disappointed with any breaches of employment standards.
In a statement released today, the organisation says the kiwifruit industry continues to lift compliance with employment legislation, and Government and industry must work together to achieve improvements>
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc says breaches of employment standards reflect the need for further involvement by both government and industry stakeholders to lift compliance with employment legislation.
“As the kiwifruit industry expands rapidly, workers welfare remains paramount. The employers of around 10,000 permanent employees and 8,000 seasonal employees must comply with employment standards,” says NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson.
“Evidence of poor employment law compliance in the industry is both disappointing and unacceptable and NZKGI will work with industry stakeholders to act decisively in addressing this issue.”
In addition to current measures, a number of new changes are underway:
Following on from a pilot in 2016, from next season all orchard contractors and all growers will be assessed as part of GlobalG.A.P GRASP, which monitors compliance with employment law and worker welfare. GlobalG.A.P. is a worldwide standard on good agricultural practice involving certification and assurance on safe and sustainable practices.
In addition to educating growers and contractors about their legal responsibilities to their workers, NZKGI has commissioned research to better understand labour practices in the kiwifruit industry.
The research provides an independent view of recruitment, employment and management of seasonal labour from the perspective of growers, contractors, and post-harvest organisations.
NZKGI will utilise the outcomes from this research to improve industry systems which ensure labour compliance.
“While significant improvements have been made, there is still work to be done. NZKGI leads a broad sector approach working alongside government organisations to ensure compliance of all employers in New Zealand's kiwifruit industry,” says Nikki.
NZKGI encourages anyone who knows of illegal labour practices in the kiwifruit industry to contact NZKGI (0800 232 505) and MBIE (0800 20 90 20).