Queenstown employers breached laws

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Action has been taken against 15 Queenstown businesses – most in the food and beverage sector – found to be in breach of employment and immigration laws.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) southern regional labour inspectorate manager Steve Watson says the ministry will not be releasing the names of those affected at this stage.

A total of 41 businesses were visited; 15 improvement notices and two ‘Enforceable Undertakings’ were issued and formal investigations were launched against seven businesses over a total of 64 alleged employment standard breaches.

Watson says the level of non-compliance identified during the August operation, which also involved Immigration New Zealand, was “disappointing, but not surprising”.

MBIE was working in joint compliance operations targeting “at risk” sectors and workers across New Zealand.

Queenstown was targeted based on information received about “this sort of behaviour”, Watson says.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann Lockhart tells the Otago Daily Times she was only made aware of the MBIE investigation on Monday but believed it was a positive thing.

“We certainly do not want this known as a town that encourages flouting of the law, let alone taking advantage of itinerant workers.”

Businesses have been given notice of their breaches and a date by which they must comply, or face action by the Employment Relations Authority.

Individuals could face penalties of up to $10,000 and companies up to $20,000 if the issues were not resolved.

Problems uncovered in Queenstown included employees not receiving the minimum wage of $13.25 an hour or not receiving public or annual holiday entitlements; and employers who did not have written employment agreements.

The seriousness of the breaches was defined by the monetary value or the level of non-compliance, Watson says.

More serious were those businesses failing to maintain records compliant with minimum standard legislation, which meant in some cases there was no evidence of wages paid and hours worked.

The average amount of arrears for employees was between $1000 and $3000.

Watson says many employers in Queenstown were aware they were not complying with legislation.

“If you’re an employer there is no excuse for not knowing the law and not complying with the minimum employment standards when you employ anybody.

“Those who breach will be dealt with [by] very firm enforcement.

“We will be going back there to follow up on this … hopefully this sends a clear message to others we are serious and we mean business.

“The ministry encourages anyone in this situation, or who knows of anyone in this situation, to call its contact centre.”

The contact centre number is 0800 20-90-20.

Tracey.Roxburgh@odt.co.nz