Southland farmer fined for exploiting migrant workers

Dairy farmer Reza Abdul-Jabbar was an imam at a mosque in Invercargill. Photo: RNZ
Dairy farmer Reza Abdul-Jabbar was an imam at a mosque in Invercargill. Photo: RNZ
A Southland dairy farm and its owner, a well-known imam and farmer, have been ordered to pay $215,000 over the exploitation of three migrant workers from Indonesia.

Company Rural Practice has to pay $145,000 and its owner, Reza Abdul-Jabbar, $70,000 in penalties ordered by the Employment Relations Authority.

The employees came from Indonesia to work for the company on its Invercargill dairy farm and were subject to numerous employment breaches between 2017 and 2022.

Breaches included not paying workers minimum wage, nor their holidays, manipulating payslips, unlawful wage deductions and not keeping accurate wage records.

In December 2020, one of the workers raised the alarm through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) contact line to complain about his pay, days off and that the employer refused to return his passport and identification.

Abdul-Jabbar was an imam at a mosque in Invercargill and the religious adviser to at least one of the three workers.

A Labour Inspectorate investigation found none of the employees were paid the correct wages, and unlawful payslip deductions included payments for the services of the recruitment company that hired them.

MBIE head of compliance and enforcement Simon Humphries said it was unforgivable that business owners would knowingly and deliberately exploit vulnerable workers they brought to New Zealand.

"These workers came to this country in search of a better life but they were taken advantage of by those they trusted," Humphries said.

"This was deliberate and systemic exploitation."

Humphries said MBIE was pleased it was able to help the vulnerable workers through intervention, and would continue to vigorously monitor potential migrant worker exploitation and enforce compliance when necessary.

"The penalties imposed demonstrates the serious nature of the breaches and sends a clear message to business owners who choose to exploit their workers for financial gain. There will be consequences."

MBIE encouraged any workers or anyone they know of who may be being treated unfairly in the workplace to phone 0800 20 90 20.

Employment Relations Authority member Alastair Dumbleton said the manipulation of payslips showed the company actively tried to mislead statutory officials of Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate.

"Abdul-Jabbar knowingly disregarded the law governing employment. He took advantage of [the migrant employees] because they were not from New Zealand."

The breaches happened because of the farmer's attitude of "disrespect for employment and immigration statutory rules and regulations", Dumbleton said.