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Source: Employment New Zealand

Canterbury horticulture employer Christopher Gray, trading as Motukarara Asparagus, has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to repay nearly $50,000 in owed pay to workers.

The owed pay included unlawful deductions, minimum wage arrears, and holiday pay entitlements for 13 employees.

Mr Gray has been deemed in breach of the Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Wages Protection Act 1983 and the Holidays Act 2003. 

The Labour Inspectorate uncovered the issues as part of a standard audit undertaken at the end of the first year of being a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE), and as a result a related RSE renewal application Mr Gray had submitted to Immigration New Zealand was declined. The Labour Inspector viewed wage and time records for the Motukarara Asparagus 2017 harvest season, finding that some of the employees’ wages were calculated based on the amount of asparagus employees picked – paid at $2.50 per kilogram. 

“It was clear the business had no system in place to check that employees earned at least the minimum wage for every hour worked,” says Kevin Finnegan, Labour Inspectorate horticulture sector lead. 

“If employees are earning piece rates that work out to be below the minimum wage per hour, they need to be topped up to at least the minimum wage – Mr Gray did not do so.” 

Mr Gray also breached the Holidays Act by failing to pay employees time and a half on public holidays worked, failing to provide alternative holidays, and failing to pay employees for Christmas day when the employees did not work, but were entitled to pay for an “otherwise working day” in accordance with the Act. 

Mr Gray also made wage deductions for various things including airfares, accommodation and medical examinations for the employees’ visas. These types of deductions can be made legally, but employers are required by law to get employees’ written consent beforehand. Mr Gray was unable to demonstrate that he had obtained written consent and the inspectorate identified additional wage deductions which were not accounted for in the employer’s records. 

The ERA ordered Mr Gray to pay of $49,722.49 (plus interest) to the 13 former employees, 10 of whom were seasonal migrant workers, two other migrant workers and one New Zealander. Any penalties for the breaches will be determined by the ERA at a later date. His RSE status was cancelled in 2018. 

“It is disappointing to see such crude breaches occurring in the horticulture sector, when the Labour Inspectorate has been working with the industry to improve compliance with the minimum standards,” Mr Finnegan says. 

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

MIL OSI