Southland farmer fined $30k for employment law breaches

A Southland farmer has been described as wilfully blind to his employment obligations and fined $30,000 by the Employment Relations Authority.

The Labour Inspectorate, which is part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), investigated Christoph Kenel after a complaint from a former employee about not receiving a written employment agreement and being paid less than the minimum wage.

Christoph Kenel operates Swiss Farm in Winton.

The Inspectorate found that of the 17 people employed by Kenel between September 2018 and September 2019 only one had an employment agreement, and record keeping was so poor it was impossible to tell if the minimum wage was being paid.

The one person with an employment agreement had supplied it himself.

Kenel did not keep holiday or leave records for any of his employees, and three employees didn't get final holiday pay when their employment was ended.

At least one employee didn't get paid time and a half or receive a day off in lieu for working a public holiday.

The Inspectorate said Kenel's holiday and leave records were so inadequate that it was impossible to tell if other employees also missed out on holiday and leave entitlements.

The ERA determination said Kenel's breaches were intentional, and he took no steps to familiarise himself with his legal obligations, and was wilfully blind.

It ordered Kenel to pay $30,000 in penalties for failing to comply with the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Holidays Act 2003.

Labour Inspectorate dairy sector strategy lead Callum McMillan said the dairy farming industry is 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.

"The industry has taken some steps over the last few years by setting expectations and establishing assurance systems, and has support readily available for farmers on matters of employment. This makes it even more disappointing that there are still dairy farmers who are failing to get the minimum requirements right, and raises a question around the due diligence the industry has in place," said McMillan.

MBIE encouraged anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20.