Vineyards have been warned to take a good look at their supply chains after a Hawke's Bay labour contracting firm run by Destiny Church members was fined $30,000 for failing to pay 12 RSE workers.
The Labour Inspectorate approached the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of 12 Papua New Guinea (PNG) citizens hired by ICM Horticultural Contracting Limited to work on Te Mata Estate in Hawke's Bay for no pay.
The ERA heard that Martha Fretton, the owner-operator of ICM, was under the impression she was training to the group of 12 workers, so they could learn about working on vineyards as part of a "Global Exposure" programme.
Fretton sent invoices to the vineyard and billed Te Mata $25,887 for the work provided by the group.
Te Mata paid Fretton the amount, but she did not pay the workers.Fretton has now been ordered to pay $30,000 in penalties for a total of 60 employment standards breaches and what the ERA has labelled as "gross negligence".
A vineyard manager at Te Mata told the ERA they understood the group were RSE workers.
Their contract with ICM provided that all workers were RSE approved, but Te Mata did not actively verify that they were.Labour Inspectorate manager Kevin Finnegan said vineyards needed to take a good look at their supply chains and ensure they're only using legitimate contractors.
"Employers need to be mindful of the risk of employment law breaches in the supply chain. Such exploitation can be damaging to the wellbeing of vulnerable workers but also to the business in terms of branding.
"Failing to ensure employees receive their minimum entitlements undercuts businesses that do the right thing and jeopardises exports and domestic sales," he said.
The workers were brought to New Zealand on visitor visas by Christina-Kewa Swarbrick and her husband Antony Swarbrick, using the trading name Global 4040.Christina-Kewa, originally from PNG, claimed she brought the individuals in for an "educative experience" rather than paid employment.
The ERA found the workers had to cover some of their travel costs to New Zealand and were under the impression the money would also grant them paid work.Christina-Kewa originally arranged activities for the group in Waikato, most of which were linked to the Destiny Church, where she originally met Fretton.
Christina-Kewa asked Fretton to provide the workers with training on vineyards, after the workers grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of work.Fretton paid a total of $9293 to Christina-Kewa as a "donation".
Some of the money was distributed to the members of the group as "allowances" and used to cover their accommodation costs, but were a drastic short of the minimum standards the workers were entitled to.
The Labour Inspectorate estimated that ICM owed $31,000 in unpaid wages and holiday pay to the 12 workers.The company has been ordered to re-pay the wage arrears.
Subsequent to these proceedings, action has been taken to liquidate ICM, contributing to the $30,000 penalty award against Fretton.