Kiwifruit employment breaches unveiled

A Labour Inspectorate uncovered 94 employment breaches during a three month operation. File photo.

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).



Posted on 19-07-2017 15:35 | By Linaire

These employers only get away with it because people allow them to. It's about time we all stood up and reported employers like this! These inspectors need to have the power to issue hefty fines [way over $1,000, which is pittance!].

A Disgrace

Posted on 19-07-2017 09:58 | By By Jimminy

A disgrace how employers are treating their workers.A fair days work deserves better than this.Shame Shame.A lot of the seasonal workers are immigrants and the Government is reluctant to take a strong stance on this.Perhaps they do not mind because it keeps wages down.It is exploitation really.

Oh Dear ..................

Posted on 18-07-2017 22:48 | By The Caveman

No surprises here, what did the Labour Inspectorate really expect to find.?? They should start checking a few more ndustries"!!

Poor employment practises.

Posted on 18-07-2017 17:57 | By socantor01

Shame on these rich pricks, trying to avoid sharing the wealth with the workers. They need to be named and shamed by putting in the stocks on the Strand at the next great Lights Show, so we can know who they are!


Posted on 18-07-2017 17:15 | By penguin

It is reprehensible for any employer to knowingly break the law and especially when foreign labour is at the centre. There is no excuse. These employers are business people and know their responsibilities. Apart from the downright exploitation of the workers, it is blight on New Zealands image overseas when these practices are exposed. Errant employers should be named and shamed for their despicable practice.

A joke

Posted on 18-07-2017 15:50 | By Chris

These inspectorate investigations are such a joke. Everyone has always known that this industry is a toilet with respect to compliance. These inspectors come in and wave a wet bus ticket at everyone, and all the employers need to do is demonstrate improvement. Then the inspectorate disappears and everyone goes back to their old ways. When fines do occur (none yet in this investigation) they're minor, and a one-off cost of business. Very rarely are follow-ups done, despite the fact that the precious few prosecutions in the history of this inspectorate have only occurred after repeated breaches.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now
Opinion Poll

What are your thoughts on the council’s proposal to increase rates 40 per cent over the next three years?

Good, it will help pay to revitilise the city
Not good, rates are high enough now
I’m ok with an increase, but maybe not such a big one

Bay Today

Penumbra on Sunday. Photo: Joan King.

Send us your photos from around the Bay of Plenty.