Taranaki farmer ordered to pay $87,000 following multiple employment breaches

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A Taranaki dairy farmer has been ordered to pay out $87,000 following serious employment law breaches.

Following an investigation from the Labour Inspectorate, Allan Marx of Vintage Farm Trust must pay $64,000 in arrears and a penalty of $23,000 issued by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

Discussions between Marx and employees took place under the direction of the ERA, with Marx accepting that arrears were owed due to his failure to both pay minimum wage and for work on public holidays. The process of determining what Marx would pay was complicated by the fact he failed to keep adequate records for the hours worked by his employees or copies of employment agreements.

In addition, allegations of bullying reared their head during the investigation, with two employees bullied into an agreement to settle their arrears for merely $8,500 – dramatically below the sum Marx would later admit they were entitled to.

Commenting on the ruling, Labour Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner said, “It is unacceptable for employers to take advantage of employees by failing to meet basic legal requirements like paying the minimum wage or keeping proper records.

“With the discussion around arrears ongoing, this case perfectly illustrates the risk farmers take on when they don’t keep sufficient employment records.

“Keeping records of the days and hours your employees work is a longstanding legal requirements in New Zealand which we expect every employer to meet - ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law.”
Commenting on the ruling, Labour Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner said, “It is unacceptable for employers to take advantage of employees by failing to meet basic legal requirements like paying the minimum wage or keeping proper records.

“With the discussion around arrears ongoing, this case perfectly illustrates the risk farmers take on when they don’t keep sufficient employment records.

“Keeping records of the days and hours your employees work is a longstanding legal requirements in New Zealand which we expect every employer to meet - ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law.”

Possible breaches in employment law were first noticed following a visit to the farm as part of a routine audit in 2014 by a labour inspector with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. As well as failing to pay minimum wage and correct public holiday rates, Marx employed two couples on joint-employment contracts. Joint-employment contracts are illegal, with all employees in New Zealand requiring an individual employment contract.

The $64,000 Marx has paid in arrears thus far has gone to the five employees working on the farm at the time of the audit, as well as six former employees.
 

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