‘Wilfully blind’ farmer fined $30k

A Southland dairy farmer who was ‘‘wilfully blind’’ to his obligations as an employer has been fined $30,000.

Dairy farmer Christoph Kenel operated Swiss Farm, in Winton, as a sole trader, employing multiple workers, including those on working holidays.

Mr Kennel was investigated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2019 after a former em- ployee complained about not receiving a written employment agreement and being paid less than the minimum wage.

Mr Kenel did not keep holiday or leave records for any of his employees, and three employees did not receive final holiday pay on termination of their employment, the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

At least one employee did not get paid time and a-half or receive an alternative holiday for working on a public holiday. Due to inadequate holiday and leave records it was not possible to know the extent to which other employees did not receive their holiday and leave entitlements.

The labour inspectorate found of the 17 people Mr Kenel employed between September 2018 and September 2019, only one had an employment agreement.

Furthermore, the wages and time records lacked sufficient detail, making it impossible to tell whether workers had been paid at least the minimum wage.

The Employment Relations Authority determined that the breaches were intentional, saying Mr Kenel "took no steps throughout his history as an employer in New Zealand to familiarise himself with his legal obligations" and had been "wilfully blind".

It noted record-keeping, as well as being a legal requirement, was "central to building productive employment relationships".

Labour inspectorate dairy sector strategy lead Callum McMillan said the dairy farming industry was a focus area for the labour inspectorate.

"It’s not enough that employers take a passive approach to compliance with employment standards. Employers have a responsibility to get the basics right no matter how long they’ve been operating.’’