Eight illegal kiwifruit workers have been identified in the Bay on Plenty and action is being taken against 18 contractors following a week-long operation checking immigration and employment laws.

In addition, 22 improvement notices have been dished out to workers.

The operation was conducted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment during May. The ministry's labour inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand visited 35 Bay of Plenty kiwifruit contractors to check their compliance with immigration and employment laws.

Labour inspectorate general manager George Mason said the ministry issued 22 improvement notices for a total of 39 minimum employment standard breaches and Immigration New Zealand identified eight illegal workers.


"Through a combination of field visits, home and office visits, self-pick orchard and pack-house visits, MBIE found that more than half of the contractors were in breach of their legal requirements," Mr Mason said.

The visits followed an operation in November last year, which identified a Bay of Plenty contractor was seriously breaching employment laws.

"As a result, MBIE decided to launch a broad audit programme of the sector, with an initial focus on the 2014 harvest. This audit programme will be ongoing.

"Seven labour inspectors and six immigration officers were involved in the first phase of the audit programme, with police assisting on two occasions.

"The level of non-compliance identified during this operation was disappointing, especially the lack of acceptable time records.

"Failure to maintain accurate time, wage and leave records is a key focus for the Labour inspectorate, with breaches subject to compliance action and potentially penalties too."

A Zespri spokesperson told the Bay of Plenty Times the company expected kiwifruit employers to comply with all employment laws and regulations, and supported New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc in its work with Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to ensure industry compliance.

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said he had no knowledge of enforcement action being taken against any contractors and was waiting to meet a ministry executive.

He said a number of the improvement notices had been issued for very minor things, including salaried staff not keeping a time sheet.

Kiwifruit Growers Inc president Neil Trebilco said he was aware of the investigation but hadn't heard of any specifics.

"It is disappointing that 18 contractors have contravened labour laws," he said.

"As an industry we are willing to work to ensure growers and contractors are compliant ... We do rely a lot on a range of labourers and seasonal workers and some situations aren't always straightforward."

Minimum code employment breaches identified
*Unlawful Deduction 2
*Minimum Wage 0
*Wage Recording 8
*Time Recording 11
*No or Inadequate Employment Agreement 11
*Holiday Pay 7
*Public Holiday 0
*Total 39