Asparagus grower ordered to pay out $50k to workers for wage violations

A Canterbury asparagus grower has been ordered to pay out almost $50,000 to workers after breaching minimum wage and holiday requirements.

Asparagus Source: 1 NEWS

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said today that Christopher Gray of Motukarara Asparagus was ordered to pay 13 employees by the Employment Relations Authority.

The issues with pay were discovered during a routine audit of Gray's operation, as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer programme.

The labour inspector looked over wage and time records for employees since the 2017 harvest season, and found that some employees' wages were calculated based on the amount of asparagus picked - $2.50 per kilogram.

For some workers, that added up to less than the minimum wage.

"It was clear the business had no system in place to check that employees earned at least the minimum wage for every hour worked," said Kevin Finnegan, the lead labour inspectorate for the horticulture sector.

"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."

Gray was also found to have breached the Holidays Act by not paying employees time and a half on public holidays and providing no alternative holidays.

He also took money out of wages for various things like airfares, accommodation and medical examinations for employee visas. Such deduction can be made legally, but employers are required to get written consent beforehand, which he had not done.

Gray's Recognised Seasonal Employer status was cancelled in 2018 and the Employment Relations Authority is considering whether further penalties will be applied.

"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," Finnegan said.

Anyone concerned about their own employment conditions, or that of someone they know, should get in touch with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment by calling 0800 20 90 20. Concerns are handled in confidence.