10 Jan 2019

Marlborough wine contractor ordered to pay $127k for exploiting migrant workers

1:12 pm on 10 January 2019

The Labour Inspectorate has asked the viticulture industry to check their supply chains to prevent wine labels being produced by exploited labour.

no caption

Wineries are being warned to check for signs of exploited labour in their supply chains. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

A Marlborough vineyard contracting company Double Seven Services and its owner have been ordered to pay more than $127,000 in fines and unpaid employee entitlements.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) made the order on finding that the company had falsified and failed to keep wage and leave records for 199 migrant workers.

The company has been penalised $85,000 and its sole shareholder Qin Zhang, $42,500 for 59 breaches of minimum employment standards, including underpaying wages and holiday pay, and not providing employment agreements for 104 workers.

Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan said the workers were paid unlawful 'piecemeal' rates for their work.

Double Seven has also been ordered to make wage arrears totalling nearly $8000 and pay more than $5000 for charging one worker a premium to have his job.

The ERA determined the full extent of losses to all employees was not known, as mandatory employment records were not kept by the company, but assessed that total wage underpayments were more likely to be $65,000.

Mr Finnegan said it was the second determination in two months involving a viticulture contracting company, following an inspectorate investigation on a viticulture contracting company for worker exploitation.

"Despite this company ceasing to trade over a year ago, penalties and arrears will be pursued in full," he said.

Mr Finnegan said the onus was on all wine businesses to thoroughly check their supply chains to make sure their wine labels and products had not been produced in any way with exploited labour.

He said it could have a devastating effect on a business' reputation.

"The potential for investors to withdraw from the industry because of poor social practises is high, if changes are not made," Mr Finnegan said.

He said a call has now gone out for the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand programme to include employment standards and labour hire components into the certification scheme for all the businesses it certified.

Employers have also been also encouraged to find out more about their rights and obligations on the Employment New Zealand website.

The Inspectorate has encouraged anyone who has information about minimum standards not being met to phone the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's service centre where calls will be handled in a confidential manner, on 0800 20 90 20.