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Orchard employer fined for breaches against 'young, vulnerable' migrant workers in Bay of Plenty

A Hawke's Bay-based horticulture employer who was fined for breaching labour laws in 2015 has again been penalised for breaches against "young and vulnerable" migrant employees in the Bay of Plenty.

Kiwifruit vine in orchard (file picture). Source: istock.com

Gautam Rajan Kapur has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay more than $25,000 for employment breaches committed against four migrant workers, the ERA said in a statement.

It comes after the Labour Inspectorate received a complaint from four Singaporean women hired by Mr Kapur for pruning work while visiting the Bay of Plenty on a working holiday. The women worked for five days on a kiwifruit orchard in Pukehina, operated by Joba Orchard Limited, but were not paid for their work.

"The employees were young and vulnerable. It was their first time in New Zealand, and Mr Kapur’s actions not only undermined the worker’s rights, but also New Zealand’s international reputation," Labour Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner said.

Mr Kapur had also set up a sham business, Sunrise Hort Limited, under another person’s name in order to avoid personal responsibility for the exploitation, authorities said. 

“When approached by the Labour Inspector, Mr Kapur claimed that he was merely an employee at Sunrise Hort, and not responsible for the breaches. Evidence provided by the employees, who had since returned to Singapore, proved this was not the case,” Ms Gardiner said.

In 2015, three Hawke’s Bay businesses associated to Mr Kapur were ordered to pay $22,500 for failure to provide employment records to the Labour Inspector.

Mr Kapur was found to be personally responsible for the breaches, and was ordered to pay $18,000 in penalties - $12,000 of which will go to the workers - and $5451 in costs incurred by the Labour Inspectorate during the investigation.

He has also been ordered by the ERA to pay $2143 to the four workers in outstanding wages and holiday pay.

“Individuals cannot hide behind company names to get away with exploitation, nor can they blatantly lie about an employment relationship, as was the case with Mr Kapur."

Mr Kapur, who is associated with at least 16 horticulture companies, has previously been investigated by government authorities and banned from managing companies.

“While the kiwifruit industry has checks in place, more should be done by the industry to make sure this type of behaviour is detected and eradicated if they are to protect workers, their brand and New Zealand’s reputation here and overseas," Ms Gardiner said.

“The Labour Inspectorate has been discussing these issues with the kiwifruit industry bodies and urges them to continue their efforts to combat non-compliance with the labour laws from the top down."

Anyone concerned with the employment situation of themselves or someone they know has been urged to contact Employment New Zealand.