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Wage breach lands farm trust $87k fine

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 26/09/2016 Jonathan Underhill

Vintage Farm Trust, which operates two dairy farms in Taranaki, has been ordered to pay at least $87,000 for employment law breaches including paying workers below the minimum wage and failing to keep records.

The determination from the Employment Relations Authority follows a routine audit by a labour inspector from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

MBIE said its investigation was "marred by allegations of bullying when two of the employees were pressured into signing an agreement to settle their claims for $8,500".

That was well below what trustee Allan Marx would later admit they were entitled to, it said.

Marx and fellow trustee Paul Roberts hired Susan Hughes QC to represent them at the hearing and while Vintage Farm acknowledged it had failed to keep records as required, it argued that this stemmed from "ignorance as opposed to a deliberate effort to avoid or flout the law".

The labour inspector, Monique Williams, had visited one of the farms on Nov.11, 2014, interviewing Marx and five employees.

Marx was unable to produce written employment records for the five workers, two of whom were on "a joint agreement" that saw them share a single salary under an arrangement "said to minimise the obligations of one in respect of child support payments."

"The time and wage records Ms Williams inspected were deficient in that they failed to record the actual hours worked by each employee and Mr Marx was unable to produce holiday records as they were not kept," the determination says.

The workers were two couples and a teenager living and working between the two farms.

The couples were on joint employment agreements being paid between $25,000 and $33,000 each, which meant they were being paid well below minimum wage for the long hours they worked, MBIE said.

The $87,000 includes $64,000 in arrears and a $23,000 penalty issued by the Employment Relations Authority, which directed discussions continue with the employees, given that Marx accepted that "further arrears are owed as a result of his failure to pay minimum wage or for public holidays".

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