ERA fines asparagus picking firm $60k for labour breaches

An asparagus picking firm has been fined just under $60,000 by the Employment Relations Authority.
An asparagus picking firm has been fined just under $60,000 by the Employment Relations Authority.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has fined a labour hire company working on asparagus farms in the Waikato just under $60,000 for failing to keep employment records.

The firm, BBS Horticulture, was penalised $57,000 by the authority for failing to retain employment agreements, or keep records of wage, time, holiday or leave, and ordered it to pay $1818.02 in arrears to former employees.

BBS also had its access to migrant labour restricted for 24 months.

The ERA said the company had a history of non-compliance.

The Labour Inspectorate first visiting BBS in November 2013 and discovered many employees were working in breach of their visa conditions, and without records of employment.

The inspectorate gave BBS an opportunity to fix its employment practices when an improvement notice was issued, and time and wage records supplied by BBS a few months later suggested that it had complied.

When the inspectorate conducted a follow-up audit in late 2015, it was revealed BBS had disregarded its obligations and reverted back to non-compliant practices. BBS was again unable to supply wage records.

When the inspectorate visited BBS again in October 2016, it found that 11 Chinese employees, one working in breach of visa conditions, had no individual employment agreements or time sheets.

After the inspectorate questioned BBS's sole shareholder and director, Davinder Singh, about the 11 people working for him, Singh could not name a single employee, the ERA said.

Keeping individual employment agreements and time, wage, holiday and leave records, are basic employer obligations in New Zealand, Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan said.

"BBS Horticulture received multiple warnings along with advice on how to get their practices up to scratch, but they continued to ignore their obligations, and showed themselves to be completely unfit to be an employer," he said in a statement.

"Without records employers may be unable to prove they're providing employees with their minimum employment entitlements, such as the minimum wage, so we take these kinds of breaches very seriously," he said.

"Not only is it unfair to the employees involved, but it's an offence to the wider business community who do meet their obligations - all employers in New Zealand must operate under the same set of rules, there are no exceptions," he said.

- NZ Herald

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