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Enforcement action on Opotiki kiwifruit industry employers

29 January 2015

MBIE takes enforcement action against Opotiki kiwifruit industry employers

Enforcement action has been taken against eight employers in the Kiwifruit sector in the Opotiki area of the Bay of Plenty following an operation carried out last year by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The Ministry’s Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand, together with Inland Revenue visited 29 businesses including orchards, pack houses and administrative offices to check their compliance with employment, immigration and tax laws.

Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Natalie Gardiner says MBIE issued eight Improvement Notices for 22 minimum employment standard breaches. These include breaches of the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Holidays Act 2003, the Minimum Wage Act 1983 and the Wages Protection Act 1983. Seven of eight Improvement Notices have now been complied with. One is still being assessed for compliance by the Inspector. There were no illegal migrant workers located.

“The level of non-compliance identified during this operation was disappointing but consistent with the information and complaints we had been receiving prior to our operation, particularly over a lack of time and wage recording which is required by law,” Mrs Gardiner says.

“These systemic failings appear to be the result of a lack of understanding of the importance of accurate record keeping, not only to meet legal requirements but also so employers can confirm they are providing their workers with their minimum employment entitlements. This failure was a major contributor to non-compliance.

“The Ministry takes these employment law breaches very seriously and is working proactively to crackdown on such activity through joint compliance operations targeting sectors and at risk workers across New Zealand.

“We will not hesitate to take action for breaches of employment law. Breaches will be subject to compliance action and potentially penalties of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies. The Ministry encourages anyone in this situation, or who knows of anyone in this situation, to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20 where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment,” Mrs Gardiner says.

An Enforceable Undertaking is a voluntary commitment by the employer to address the breaches within a certain timeframe. If that doesn’t happen, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) can issue a compliance order and if that is not followed, then an order for penalties. If for instance money owed to workers is not paid, the breach may go straight to the District Court for civil debt enforcement proceedings.

An Improvement Notice describes the employment law breach, the date and steps by which the employer must comply. If the employer fails to do so, the labour inspector may seek enforcement through a compliance order from the ERA. If the employer still does not comply, the labour inspector may seek penalties via the ERA.

ENDS

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