Former kiwifruit contractor ordered to pay $276,000 for exploiting migrant workers

The company was also ordered to pay wage arrears totalling more than $26,000.
The company was also ordered to pay wage arrears totalling more than $26,000. Photo credit: Getty

A former Bay of Plenty kiwifruit labour contractor and its owner have been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to pay $276,000 for exploiting migrant workers.

Raj Kiwi was penalised $160,000 and former shareholder and director Rajasekar Chellappa ordered to pay an additional $70,000 for 49 breaches of employment minimum standards relating to six migrant workers, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company was also ordered to pay wage arrears to the former employees totalling more than $26,000.

Kevin Finnegan, Labour Inspectorate Horticulture sector lead, strongly condemned the company's actions.

"This offending was blatant, and the authority's high penalties show it recognises the employer was at the worst end of migrant exploitation," Finnegan said on Wednesday.

"But it could have been even worse. The Inspectorate continues to encourage anyone who believes their employment rights are in breach to come forward, and that is what happened here – the complainants came forward to the MBIE help line."

Finnegan said the kiwifruit body Zespri also acted quickly after receiving similar complaints and, following discussion with the Inspectorate immediately suspended Raj Kiwi's contactor certification, which "allowed the Inspectorate to immediately and effectively investigate the breaches".

 "It is actions like this from Zespri that automatically shows the sector and its supply chains that employers like Raj Kiwi are a red flag to anyone doing business with them, or buying their services. Any business continuing to do so also puts their own reputation at serious risk."

The breaches come after a subsidiary of Chellappa's, Raj Infotech, was ordered to pay nearly $30,000 by the ERA in 2019 in wage arrears and penalties, after non-compliantly ending a migrant IT consultant’s job, before instead offering them a job picking kiwifruit.