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NZ probe uncovers employment breaches

Kiwifruit industry focused on lifting compliance with employment legislation following investigation results

NZ probe uncovers employment breaches

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All New Zealand kiwifruit growers and orchard contractors will be subject to GlobalGAP GRASP assessment from next season onwards.

Nikki Johnson, chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI), said the move is aimed at lifting industry compliance with employment legislation, following the concerning results of a recent investigation by the country’s Labour Inspectorate.

The operation, which focused on the key Bay of Plenty production hub, uncovered 94 breaches of employment standards, with 53 per cent of employers failing to meet all minimum requirements. This included providing employment agreements and paying at least the minimum wage. One employer was found to owe more than NZ$25,000 to their employees.

The probe included audits on 62 labour contracting companies and interviews with 687 employees, which took place over a three month period last year.

“There are no acceptable excuses for employers failing to meet all minimum standards or provide people with all their minimum entitlements,” says Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan.

“Almost all of the employers found in breach were using migrant labour, which is concerning because these are vulnerable people who may not fully know their rights and entitlements.”

Most employers were able to immediately address the breaches, while 20 improvement notices and six enforceable undertakings were issued. Two employers were issued improvement notices and fined NZ$1,000 each.

With the New Zealand kiwifruit industry undergoing a period of rapid expansion, Johnson reminded stakeholders that worker welfare remained paramount.

“Evidence of poor employment law compliance in the industry is both disappointing and unacceptable and NZKGI will work with industry stakeholders to act decisively in addressing this issue,” Johnson said.

GlobalGAP GRASP (risk assessment on social practice) monitors compliance with employment law and worker welfare.

In addition to the mandatory assessments, NZKGI has commissioned research to better understand labour practices in the kiwifruit industry. The research will cover recruitment, employment and management of seasonal labour from the perspective of growers, contractors, and post-harvest organisations.

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