NZ wine contractor fined $140k after failing to pay minimum wage

Marlborough-based vineyard labour contractor, Double Seven, has been fined NZ$140,000 after an inspection found that the company had failed to keep accurate records for employees, provide employment contracts and pay some workers the minimum wage.

Double Seven and its owner, Qin Zhang​, have been fined over $140,000 by New Zealand’s Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

Following a joint operation back in 2016 between the Labour Inspectorate, Immigration New Zealand and Inland Revenue, a number of contractors were found to be breaking the rules.

After Zhang was informed of the report findings, he ceased to assist in the investigation which was subsequently passed to the ERA last year.

From the information contained within the report, the ERA found that Double Seven had failed to keep wage, time, holiday and leave records for 199 employees, to provide employment contracts for 104 works, to pay the minimum wage and holiday pay to 21 employees (with minimum arrears totalling $7,047), to calculate or pay leave to 21 workers, to pay 13 employees for working over a public holiday and had charged an employee a $5,065 premium for working.

It also stated that Double Seven had provided the Labour Inspectorate with false information and had exploited vulnerable migrant workers.

Neither Zhang nor a representative of Double Seven attended the ERA meeting, with ERA member Peter Van Keulen releasing his decision in late December 2018.

Commenting on the results, Van Keulen said: “I am satisfied, on the evidence I received that Mr Zhang has aided, abetted, counselled or procured the breaches and that he was knowingly concerned in or party to, the breaches of minimum standards.

Van Keulen ordered Double Seven to pay $12,675 to affected workers and fined the company $85,000 and Zhang $42,500. The company has also been requested to pay the costs for the ERA hearing.

Van Keulen added: “Double Seven has failed to pay minimum standards, failed to keep mandatory records and has charged a premium to an employee. These are all serious breaches.

“Further, Double Seven has exploited vulnerable migrant employees, employees who will have had little knowledge of their rights or, if they did know their rights, little power or ability to enforce their rights.

“And then when faced with an enquiry into its employment practices and its compliance with employment obligations Double Seven initially participated but it appears only to the extent that it put forward information that it believed would wrongly show it had complied, including providing amended information that was clearly incorrect. Once it became clear to Double Seven that the labour inspector was not going to be misled by its information, Double Seven and Mr Zhang stopped assisting and then did not engage at all in this action.”

Last month, Marlborough businessman Jaswinder Paul was ordered to pay over $20,000 in fines and unpaid wages to vineyard workers who he had paid less than half the minimum wage.

Seven workers, hired through his company R.K.K Enterprises, were subcontracted to work at Stokesay Vineyard.

ERA member Christine Hickey called Paul’s actions were “deliberate, not inadvertent” and added: “The employees were vulnerable in that they were transient workers on temporary visas, some of whom spoke English as an additional language. They all lacked familiarity with their rights under New Zealand employment law and knowledge of how to enforce those rights.”

This news follows a series of internal crackdowns on the New Zealand wine industry as a whole. Last month, a series of convictions under the country’s Wine Act (2003) saw the director of a New Zealand wine exporter be convicted and fined after falsifying export papers to the EU and Marlborough winery Yealands fined NZ$400,000 after pleading guilty to five charges relating to the addition of sugar to wines destined for sale in the EU market.

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