25 May 2024

Dairy farm and owner to pay $215k for exploiting migrant workers

A Southland dairy business and its owner, have been ordered to pay $215,000 in penalties by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) after having been found to have exploited three Indonesian migrant workers.

The dairy business, Rural Practice Ltd is owned by Reza Abdul-Jabbar who is the Imam of the Invercargill Mosque for the local Muslim community. He was also the religious advisor and mentor for at least one of the workers.

Both the business and Abdul-Jabbar were found to have breached numerous minimum employment standards by not paying workers the minimum wage/holiday & leave pay; unlawfully deducting money from their wages;not keeping accurate wage or time records and forcing the workers to pay premiums.

The business was ordered to pay $145,000, and owner must pay $70,000. Two of the three workers will each receive $10,000 of the penalties amount.

In an earlier determination released in February 2024, the ERA ordered Rural Practice and Abdul-Jabbar to pay the workers $52,056 in arrears in holiday pay, plus interest. They also voluntarily paid $64,387 to the workers for holiday pay and unlawful deductions during the hearing process.

The three workers came from Indonesia to work for Rural Practice Ltd on its Invercargill dairy farm between December 2017 and February 2022.

After receiving a complaint from one of the workers, Labour Inspectorate investigation found that each employee had been given two versions of their individual employment agreements – one stating a higher salary which the employer provided to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) during work visa applications, and the other, provided to the Labour Inspector, stating a lower amount. None of the employees were paid the correct wages due to them.

It was also found amounts had been deducted from one of the worker’s wages, purportedly to pay for the services of a recruitment company in Indonesia.

During the investigation, it was also found that payslips for the workers had been manipulated to “mislead statutory officials of INZ and the Labour Inspector.”

Simon Humphries, Head, Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate, said it was unforgivable that business owners would knowingly and deliberately exploit vulnerable workers they had brought to New Zealand.

“This was deliberate and systemic exploitation…Abdul-Jabbar knowingly disregarded the law governing employment. He took advantage of [the migrant employees] because they were not from New Zealand and were from Indonesia, where he too was from.”

MBIE encourages anyone who thinks they or someone else has been treated unfairly in the workplace to contact 0800 20 90 20 with their concerns.

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