Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Farmers 'taken advantage of' receive $87k

Dairy farmers paid out after being exploited. Photo/Christine Cornege
Dairy farmers paid out after being exploited. Photo/Christine Cornege

A Taranaki dairy farmer who failed to pay workers minimum wage or holiday pay has been ordered to fork out more than $87,000.

An investigation by the Labour Inspectorate found Allan Marx of Vintage Farm Trust had seriously breached employment law.

This was complicated by the fact that he had also not kept records of employment agreements or employee hours. Labour Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner said the case was a timely reminder for employers.

"It is unacceptable for employers to take advantage of employees by failing to meet basic legal requirements like paying the minimum wage or keeping proper records," Gardiner said.

"With the discussion around arrears ongoing, this case perfectly illustrates the risk farmers take on when they don't keep sufficient employment records," she said.

"Keeping records of the days and hours your employees work is a longstanding legal requirements in New Zealand which we expect every employer to meet - ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law."

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ordered Marx to pay $64,000 in arrears to staff and a $23,000 penalty - although further payments may be required as discussions between Marx and his employees are ongoing.

Marx was also accused of bullying after two employees were pressured into signing an agreement to settle their claims for $8,500 - well below the amount he later admitted they were entitled to.

The investigation began after a routine audit of dairy farms in the region found two couples working on the farm were on joint employment agreements being paid between $25,000 and $33,000 each - meaning they were being paid well below minimum wage for the long hours they worked.

Joint employment agreements are illegal in New Zealand. The investigation also Marx had failed to correctly pay his employees for working on public holidays, opting to give an extra $50 instead of their minimum entitlements.

- NZ Herald

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