On-farm job law crack­down

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

Nearly three out of four dairy farm­ers have been caught break­ing ba­sic em­ploy­ment laws in a govern­ment crack­down.

Farm­ers have been told to ‘‘lift their game’’ af­ter Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment’s (MBIE) labour in­spec­torate vis­ited 44 farms, 31 of which were found to be in breach of min­i­mum em­ploy­ment rights.

In one case a farmer was or­dered to pay $6000 in ar­rears to an em­ployee for breach­ing the Min­i­mum Wage Act, the min­istry said.

Sev­eral cases re­mained open with the pos­si­bil­ity of more se­ri­ous en­force­ment ac­tion pend­ing.

MBIE said in Novem­ber it would be vis­it­ing dairy farms through­out New Zealand from De­cem­ber 2013 to April 2014 to check com­pli­ance with min­i­mum em­ploy­ment rights.

The vis­its were part of a na­tional dairy strat­egy with a fo­cus on the sea­sonal av­er­ag­ing of salaries and fail­ure to keep ac­cu­rate time and wage records.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers dairy chair­man Willy Le­ferink said there was a lot of pa­per­work in­volved in em­ploy­ing labour but farm­ers needed to stay on top of it.

‘‘Farm­ers are poor keep­ers of pa­per­work,’’ he said.

‘‘Some didn’t have con­tracts and that sort of stuff. We don’t live in the 80s any more.’’

In re­la­tion to sea­sonal av­er­ag­ing a lot of farm­ers were op­er­at­ing out of habit but that was no ex­cuse for break­ing the law, he said.

‘‘Em­ploy­ment is se­ri­ous busi­ness so you have to treat it se­ri­ously,’’ Le­ferink said.

For $60 farm­ers who were Fed­er­ated Farm­ers mem­bers could get a pack­age with all the nec­es­sary em­ploy­ment doc­u­men­ta­tion and in­for­ma­tion, he said.

There was a grey area about how farm­ers should cal­cu­late min­i­mum wages if hous­ing was in­cluded in an em­ploy­ment con­tract – and nearly all New Zealand dairy farm­ers would sup­ply hous­ing for work­ers.

‘‘It’s a bit con­fus­ing be­cause the min­istry it­self prob­a­bly doesn’t know where things are at.’’

MBIE cen­tral re­gion man­ager Kris Metcalf said the min­istry had taken en­force­ment ac­tion in re­sponse to the breaches, re­sult­ing in 22 en­force­able un­der­tak­ings and one im­prove­ment no­tice be­ing is­sued in the crack­down.

An en­force­able un­der­tak­ing is a com­mit­ment by an em­ployer to ad­dress a fail­ure to com­ply with the law.

The ex­er­cise in­volved 13 labour in­spec­tors.

Metcalf said the next phase would fo­cus on farms em­ploy­ing mi­grant work­ers.

‘‘Farm­ers need to lift their game in com­ply­ing with min­i­mum em­ploy­ment rights and can ex­pect a strong en­force­ment re­sponse from the next phase,’’ Metcalf said.

Em­ploy­ers could be fined up to $10,000 for an in­di­vid­ual and up to $20,000 for a com­pany for fail­ing to com­ply with em­ploy­ment laws.

Dun­das Street Em­ploy­ment Lawyers part­ner Su­san Horns­byGeluk said if em­ploy­ers failed to com­plete the ap­pro­pri­ate paper work, they could be li­able for per­sonal grievances on the ba­sis of un­jus­ti­fied dis­missal when a con­tract was ter­mi­nated.

‘‘If they en­gage people on the ba­sis of a hand­shake, if it goes to grief they’re go­ing to be li­able un­der the em­ploy­ment re­la­tions act,’’ she said.

Hornsby-Geluk said the find­ings were not sur­pris­ing be­cause a lot of farm work­ers were young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced in the area of em­ploy­ment rights and en­ti­tle­ments.

Smaller em­ploy­ers of­ten did not have the same level of rigour around em­ploy­ment com­pli­ance, she said.

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