Dairy farmer may appeal exploitation fine

Reza Abdul-Jabbar has been ordered to pay $215,000 after he  exploited his employees at his...
Reza Abdul-Jabbar has been ordered to pay $215,000 after he exploited his employees at his Southland dairy farm. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A Southland imam who exploited his dairy farm workers says the $215,000 penalty he has to pay is an affront to his "moral code".

Following a complaint at the end of 2020, a labour inspector found Reza Abdul-Jabbar, owner of Rural Practice Ltd (RPL), breached multiple employment standards.

In a decision released in February, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) directed the payment of $52,056 to two staff, in addition to $64,387 voluntarily handed over after the investigation began.

But a heavier blow came this week.

Authority member Alistair Dumbleton ordered RPL and Abdul-Jabbar to pay penalties totalling $215,000 ($10,000 of which will go to the affected workers).

He told the Otago Daily Times he would discuss the possibility of appeal with his lawyer.

Following a nine-day hearing last year, Mr Dumbleton found Abdul-Jabbar had "invented" pay records and underpaid three Indonesian staff.

Each employee had two versions of their contract and differing payslips so Immigration New Zealand (INZ) would not detect the underpayments.

Abdul-Jabbar argued no further penalties should be imposed and that he did not have the money to pay a fine.

But the authority said the information about his financial position was "incomplete".

Abdul-Jabbar claimed he owned nothing in his name, despite records showing he was a shareholder in companies that owned $2 million of property.

"Presumably he is not the legal owner of the motorcycle he rides", Mr Dumbleton added.

The Labour Inspectorate said the breaches were "persistent, systemic and deliberate" and the ERA agreed.

"The respondents deny they acted deceptively, but the dual payslips created ... have remained unexplained and the authority has concluded they were created with intent to mislead or deceive INZ or the Inspector or both", the decision said.

Abdul-Jabbar said imposing further penalties would be an affront to his moral code.

"Having a code and living by it may be two different things", the authority said.

"If [Abdul-Jabbar] has not adhered to values he holds; on searching his conscience he may feel he let himself down and harmed others in the course of doing so."

Abdul-Jabbar offered no explanation for the breaches of standards.

The ERA concluded it was simply "disrespect for employment and immigration statutory rules and regulations".

"In short ... when it suited him, Mr Abdul-Jabbar knowingly disregarded the law governing employment. He took advantage of [the employees] because they were not from New Zealand and were from Indonesia, where he too was from.

"The respondents acted as if they knew best what was right for workers from Indonesia, not INZ or the Labour Inspector or Parliament which made the law", Mr Dumbleton said.

The decision explained that Abdul-Jabbar was a religious mentor to at least one of his employees and abused their trust.

One worker claimed Abdul-Jabbar had possession of his passport and did not give it back when asked.

The ERA did not make a finding in relation to this complaint but said it could have added another layer of pressure and control.

The authority accepted that RPL and Abdul-Jabbar supported their employees in some areas but said that did not excuse the breaches.

"It is a serious and damaging breach to knowingly and deliberately deprive a worker in an employment relationship of statutory and contractual entitlements", the decision said.

"It would not have been hard to pay them correctly if the respondents had wanted to."

The case is not over yet.

Mr Dumbleton directed further investigation into Abdul-Jabbar’s alleged obstruction of the inquiry, which would be undertaken by another ERA member.

felicity.dear@odt.co.nz , PIJF court reporter