A former Bay of Plenty kiwifruit labour contractor and its former owner have been ordered to pay more than $250,000 for exploiting six migrant workers.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) penalised Raj Kiwi $160,000, and former shareholder and director Rajasekar Chellappa was individually fined an additional $70,000 for 49 employment minimum standards breaches. These included breaches of minimum wage, holiday pay, not keeping records and absent employment agreements.
Raj Kiwi had 11 employees affected by the offending. Raj Kiwi was ordered to pay wage arrears to six, totalling more than $23,000.
In the authority's findings, it stated one employee, in particular, had only ever received $100 in cash during his first week of work and then $200 in his second week of work. The employee was actually owed $627.70 in waves and holiday pay.
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When this employee left, he was told his final wages included deductions for rent, rides and cash advanced despite there being no prior discussion or agreement about these. He refused to accept the remaining $54.11 of cash offered.
Labour inspectorate horticulture sector lead Kevin Finnegan said in a statement: "This offending was blatant, and the authority's high penalties show it recognises the employer was at the worst end of migrant exploitation.
"But it could have been even worse. The inspectorate continues to encourage anyone who believes their employment rights are in breach to come forward, and that is what happened here – the complainants came forward to the MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] helpline.
"Kiwifruit body Zespri also acted quickly after receiving similar complaints, and following discussion with the inspectorate immediately suspended Raj Kiwi's contractor certification. This allowed the Inspectorate to immediately and effectively investigate the breaches.
"It is actions like this from Zespri that automatically shows the sector and its supply chains that employers like Raj Kiwi are a red flag to anyone doing business with them, or buying their services. Any business continuing to do so also puts their own reputation at serious risk."
A subsidiary of Chellappa's, Raj Infotech, was ordered to pay nearly $30,000 by the ERA in 2019 in wage arrears and penalties, after non-compliantly ending a migrant IT consultant's job, before instead offering them a job picking kiwifruit.
• Anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know is advised to call the MBIE contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.