Employment and immigration breaches uncovered in horticulture sector

  • 17/03/2020
The visits were part of a proactive programme to check compliance in the horticulture sector.
The visits were part of a proactive programme to check compliance in the horticulture sector. Photo credit: Getty

Recent employment and immigration breaches found in the horticulture sector have alarmed authorities.

The Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand - both part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - visited two Pukekohe vegetable farms and one orchard in Hawkes Bay recently to check whether businesses followed the legal requirements in respect of their employees. 

The visits were part of a proactive programme to check compliance in the horticulture sector.

Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan said problems were found at all three locations.

"This is a very disappointing outcome and shows growers are failing due diligence on the contractors they use for labour," said Finnegan.

A number of contractors operating on the Fresh Grower Ltd and Hira Bhana & Co Ltd farms in Pukekohe had no employment agreements for their employees, and were allegedly paying them no more than $14.50 an hour in cash - significantly below the current minimum wage. 

One contractor had migrant employees working illegally on visitors' visas.

"Despite being members of the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association and purporting to have an assurance programme in place, the growers failed to ensure workers in their supply chains were treated fairly and in accordance with the law.

"To be effective, it is imperative that any assurance scheme incorporates proper treatment of workers. There are recognised certification schemes for labour standards supported by the horticulture sector, and growers need to be adopting these and implementing them robustly."

He said the growers sold their produce directly to supermarkets, which also compromised the supply chain of those supermarkets. 

"This is a poor result, considering the Inspectorate has been working extensively with the horticulture sector to assist them with getting their employment practices on an assured and legal footing."

The visit to Hope Orchard in Hastings also uncovered a number of migrant workers without legal working visas. 

The Labour Inspectorate was still investigating the two contractors that were found working on this orchard.

Immigration New Zealand's general manager of verification and compliance, Stephen Vaughan, said it was very concerning that seven people were working in breach of their visas in Hastings and four in Pukekohe. 

Eight of the workers were issued warnings, two were taken into custody for deportation and one was issued a notice making him liable for deportation.

"This is a stark reminder to contractors to ensure that all their workers are legally able to work and if they're from overseas that they have their right visas," said Vaughan.

"We will not tolerate contractors flouting the law and will take strong action when they do."

Enforcement action against the employers was still being finalised.