9 Oct 2015

ERA shows leniency to employer

5:44 pm on 9 October 2015

A Bangladeshi employer who hired illegal migrants and destroyed evidence of it has been shown leniency by the Employment Relations Authority because of mitigating circumstances.

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Photo: 123RF

Rapport, which hires out kiwifruit pickers in the Bay of Plenty, has been fined $4000 for failing to provide wage and time, holiday and leave records and employment agreements for five staff.

The company could have been fined $10,000, but the Employment Relations Authority decided that the case was different.

Rapport was pinged by a labour inspector following a seminar in 2013 for labour hire contractors who worked in the kiwifruit industry in the area.

Governing director of the company, Jahangir Alam, attended the seminar where he and other employers were advised that they needed to comply with minimum standards legislation and warned of an audit which was to take place.

An audit of Rapport was undertaken in May 2014, and shortly afterwards the labour inspector, police and Immigration New Zealand visited an orchard.

Six workers at the Te Puke orchard claimed to work for Rapport, and all but one were found to be working illegally.

The authority agreed with the labour inspector that Rapport had breached a number of laws, but it found the breaches were not at the serious end of the spectrum because of the context of the situation.

In written correspondence Mr Alam denied he employed the five men, but he later admitted this was not true and that he had thrown away their employment records.

The authority concluded that he had done this because he was concerned about getting the men in trouble with New Zealand authorities, and that it was done to protect the five men and not for any personal benefit.

It found Mr Alam had been helping the five Bangladeshi migrants by employing them, they were better off from it, and that there was no evidence to suggest the workers had been exploited.

It said there was a cultural obligation on Mr Alam to assist the five men, and that "he was effectively imposed upon by these five men and employed them unwillingly."

Furthermore the authority found four of the five men employed were helping reintegrate Mr Alam back into the Bangladeshi community after he was ostracised for helping the police.

Mr Alam had worked with police, Victim Support and the Inland Revenue Department in his community, and had subsequently been labelled a police informer.

The authority concluded Mr Alam and his family could have suffered more years of ostracism had the men not helped restore his standing in the community.

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