Fairwork: Ex-Kiwifruit Contractor To Pay $276,000 For Exploiting Workers

Image by Ebrahim Amiri from Pixabay

A former Bay of Plenty kiwifruit labour contractor and its former owner have been ordered to pay more than $250,000 by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), for exploiting six migrant workers.

Raj Kiwi has been penalised $160,000, with former shareholder and director Rajasekar Chellappa individually penalised an additional $70,000, for 49 employment minimum standards breaches. These included breaches of minimum wage, holiday pay, not keeping records and absent employment agreements.

Raj Kiwi has also been ordered to pay wage arrears to the six workers, totalling more than $26,000.

“This offending was blatant, and the Authority’s high penalties show it recognises the employer was at the worst end of migrant exploitation,” says Labour Inspectorate Horticulture sector lead, Kevin Finnegan.

“But it could have been even worse. The Inspectorate continues to encourage anyone who believes their employment rights are in breach to come forward, and that is what happened here – the complainants came forward to the MBIE help line.

“Kiwifruit body Zespri also acted quickly after receiving similar complaints, and following discussion with the Inspectorate, immediately suspended Raj Kiwi’s contractor certification. This allowed the Inspectorate to immediately and effectively investigate the breaches.

“It is actions like this from Zespri that automatically shows the sector and its supply chains that employers like Raj Kiwi are a red flag to anyone doing business with them, or buying their services. Any business continuing to do so also puts their own reputation at serious risk.”

A subsidiary of Mr Chellappa’s, Raj Infotech, was ordered to pay nearly $30,000 by the ERA in 2019 in wage arrears and penalties, after non-compliantly ending a migrant IT consultant’s job, before instead offering them a job picking kiwifruit.

Anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know is advised to call the MBIE* contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.

(Source: employment.govt.nz | *Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment that supports all small businesses & innovation in New Zealand)