1493783890013 - Underpaid workers to get $33K from Marlborough vineyard contractor, ERA orders

Underpaid workers to get $33K from Marlborough vineyard contractor, ERA orders

A Marlborough vineyard contracting company has been stung with a $40,000 penalty and ordered to pay back its workers for breaching employment standards.

The Employments Relation Authority found against Precise Contracting Limited after an investigation by the Labour Inspectorate unearthed a raft of breaches.

The authority found the company failed to provide 83 employees with minimum wage, correct holiday pay, or keep proper employment records for its workers.

Precise Contracting was ordered by the authority to pay just over $33,000 in arrears to the workers, on top of the $40,000 penalty for the employment breaches.

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However, director Rhonda Burridge denied she breached any employment standards, blaming the confusion over pay on a worker who stole timesheets from the company.

There may have been about $1200 in unpaid wages that “slipped through the cracks” because of the theft of the block sheets which happened in the 2014 pruning season, she said.

Burridge said it was ridiculous it had taken three years for the case to go through the Labour Inspectorate and to the ERA.

“Quite frankly it pisses me off. Because if I was as bad as what they’re saying, I shouldn’t have been operating for the past three years,” she said.

During its investigation, the Labour Inspectorate found the company failed to pay employees their last week’s pay or holiday pay when they left the business.

Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan said providing entitlements like minimum wage and holiday pay were basics every employer had to follow.

“Just because you find employees leaving your business frustrating does not entitle you to penalise them by withholding their last pay,” he said.

However, Burridge said the company’s contract included a clause requiring workers to provide one week’s notice. If they did not do this, they risked only getting contract rates, with no minimum wage top-up.

The inspectorate also found Burridge would regularly alter employees’ timesheets and favour supervisors’ accounts of the amount of hours they worked – a charge she completely denied. 

The Labour Inspectorate said she also added in 45 minute unpaid lunch breaks, even when employees had recorded shorter breaks.

According to Burridge, this was on her accountant’s advice, as the “non-productive” time workers took going for their 30-minute breaks extended them to an average of 45 minutes.

“Altering your employees’ timesheets without their consent, as was common practice for Ms Burridge, is not acceptable,” Finnegan said.

“With such a big stake in exports, it’s in the best interest of the viticulture industry to take active steps to make sure employment obligations are being met on their vineyards.”

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said, despite criticism to the contrary, actions like this showed the Labour Inspectorate was present and active in Marlborough.

“They’ve been criticised that they’re not present enough, not active enough, but I think it shows they are present and they’re prepared to act on poor performance,” Pickens said.

He said it was important to note Precision Contracting was not a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) company. 

It also heightened the expectations for grape growers and wine companies to make sure they hired legitimate vineyard contractors to do work on their properties, Pickens said.

Document filings on the New Zealand Companies Office website showed a liquidator was appointed to Precision Contracting on April 27.

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