Inspectors enforcing employment laws

Labour inspectors this week began visiting dairy farmers who employ migrant labour.

The visits, which will take place on farms throughout the country until 2015, are part of the third phase of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Labour Inspectorate's national dairy strategy.

Central region manager Kris Metcalf said the strategy's first phase visits began in 2012.

The second phase had inspectors visit 44 dairy farms nationwide between December 2013 and April this year, to check minimum employment rights compliance.

Of those, 31 had breached those rights, and included seven in Southland and Otago. Of the breaches in the South Island, seven were for time recording. one each for inadequate holiday leave recording, public holiday entitlements and for having either no or an inadequate employment agreement.

Mr Metcalf said they had taken enforcement action against 22 farms and one improvement notice was issued.

Individuals could face a maximum fine of $10,000 and $20,000 for corporates for non-compliance.

One farmer had to pay an employee $6000 under the Minimum Wage Act 1983 and other cases were still open.

''Our particular focus was on seasonal averaging of salaries and the failure to keep accurate time and wage records,'' Mr Metcalf said.

''The visits were planned so as to not catch them [farmers] out.

''We visited the person in charge the day before to explain the purpose of visit, and then came back to interview employers and employees, mainly about peak and off-peak wages and hours worked.

''The encouraging thing has been the media coverage and the support from Federated Farmers and DairyNZ.

''If a farmer asks how to comply [with the rules], they were referred to industry bodies such as DairyNZ or Federated Farmers.

''There is no excuse for not being able to comply,'' he said.

DairyNZ's strategy and investment leader for people and business, Mark Paine, said in a press release that ''good wage and time recording are part of good management practice and has the potential to add a lot of value to the farm business''.

''The dairy industry as a whole is in agreement that this is critical and needs addressed,'' Mr Paine said.

''This is why providing a world-class work environment on-farm is one of the 10 strategic objectives in the [dairy] industry strategy. We had MBIE's labour inspectorate telling us that more than half the farmers they visited recently were in breach of employment laws.

''We need to address that and lift our game as an industry to attract and retain quality staff.''

- by Yvonne O'Hara