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Canterbury farmer fined $30k for breaches to minimum employment standards for 24 workers

A Canterbury farming company which supplied to dairy giant Fonterra and its director have been fined more than $30,000 following breaches of minimum employment standards to 24 workers - half of them migrants on temporary visas.

Source: istock.com

Greywacke Farms Limited and its director, Dietmar Kopetschny, has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to pay $20,000 and $10,000 respectively for their failure to comply with employment law.

It comes after the Labour Inspectorate, on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), investigated the businesses in 2019 after receiving complaints from former and current employees across two South Canterbury dairy farms run by Greywacke Farms.

Kopetschny also operated as a sole trader working as a share-milker.

The investigation revealed breaches of minimum employment standards in relation to 24 workers across Kopetschny’s operations, about half of which were migrants on temporary work visas.

The Inspectorate found the employer had a complicated rostering system and manually recorded payroll and leave data, resulting in failures to keep compliant wage, time, holiday and leave records; failures to calculate and pay correct holiday pay to eight employees; and failure to pay minimum wage to at least one employee.

Kopetschny also failed to obtain consent from one employee for making deductions from wages for providing the employee with accommodation.

The ERA found the breaches caused significant material hardship to some of the low paid employees and gave the employer an unfair competitive advantage over businesses that comply with legal requirements.

The ERA found the breaches were intentional and could have been avoided by using publicly available guidance from MBIE or Federated Farmers, or investing in a more efficient and compliant payroll system.

Kopetschny was made personally liable for $10,000 in penalties, of which $7,500 will be paid out to three former employees.

Labour Inspectorate acting regional manager Callum McMillan says the dairy farming industry is a focus area for the Labour Inspectorate.

“The industry made significant improvements to put assurance systems in place and have readily available support for farmers on matters of employment,” he said.

“This makes it even more disappointing to find there are still dairy farmers that undermine minimum employment standards. Employers cannot cut their overheads by taking advantage of workers.”

McMillan said the Inspectorate has also engaged with Fonterra about the promotion of compliance within their supply chains.

“Large brands like Fonterra have an important role to play in taking leadership to ensure a fair treatment of workers from the top down. Failing to do so damages the reputation of the brand, the industry and of New Zealand as an exporter.”

Anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know has been urged to contact the MBIE service centre on 0800 20 90 20.