Farmer ordered to pay workers $33k

By Imran Ali -
1 comment
Dairy NZ is educating  farmers on how to employ staff.
Dairy NZ is educating farmers on how to employ staff.

An order for a Northland sharemilker to pay two labourers nearly $33,000 in wage arrears and lost remuneration does not reflect the region's dairy farmers in general, an industry leader says.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ruled that Graeme Charles Smith unjustifiably dismissed Aden Murray McKinnon and Paige Tyra Pou, and ordered both be paid wage arrears, including holiday pay.

Mr McKinnon and Ms Pou were employed as farm labourers at Whatitiri Rd in Whangarei.

Both said they were employed by Mr Smith but he alleged their employer was his company, Smith Family Farming, which is in liquidation.

ERA member Tania Tetitaha said an absence of wage and leave records prevented Mr McKinnon and Ms Pou from bringing accurate claims and the onus therefore, rested upon the employer to disprove their claims.

Mr McKinnon was told to leave in late February or early March 2015, while Ms Pou did not return to work after her work hours were unilaterally reduced on April 6.

Ms Tetitaha said there was evidence Mr Smith was pressured by the farm owner to have two fulltime workers or else his contract may not be renewed.

In the absence of an individual employment agreement and the non-payment of tax to Inland Revenue Department, she said there was little evidence the company employed Mr McKinnon and Ms Pou.

Ms Tetitaha said since both were more regularly paid in cash by Mr Smith, evidence pointed to him as being the employer rather than the company.

Mr McKinnon was awarded wage arrears of $2340, lost remuneration of $4637, and $2812 as compensation.

Ms Pou will receive wage arrears of $7154, $7478 in lost remuneration, and $5000 compensation.

Mr Smith has also been ordered to pay $3500 as a contribution towards legal costs.

Northland dairy industry leader Greg Gent said farmers had come a long way as employers and the dairy sector was better in terms of following employment laws than it was 10 years ago.

"There are 12,000 dairy farmers throughout New Zealand so it's a large industry and from time to time things happen that are not acceptable.

"It's always one or two that are letting others down," he said.

Mr Gent said Dairy NZ was putting a lot of work into educating dairy farmers how to employ workers.

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