25 Apr 2016

Overworked farmers awarded $20k by ERA

9:06 am on 25 April 2016

Two farm workers who did long hours and were underpaid at a farm in Leeston near Christchurch have been awarded $21,907.42.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The Employment Relations Authority found Bernard Reiher was not allowed days off, while Kirstin Morgan was told she was not allowed maternity leave after giving birth.

The couple worked at the farm, owned by the company Kershevin Farms Limited, for seven months from June 2013.

They took their case for unfair dismissal, and other poor treatment, to the authority after the farm was sold.

Ms Morgan, the farm's manager, told the authority a director of Kershevin Farms, Judith Jones, tried to force her to return to full work duties while she was recovering from giving birth and her caesarean operation.

She said Ms Jones threatened to reduce her salary or replace her if she took maternity leave.

Mr Reiher, the farm's assistant manager, said he worked all but one day during his employment and was not paid properly for the extra shifts.

A recorded conversation revealed when questioned about the long hours, Ms Jones told Mr Reiher that he took the "job on knowing that's the way it is".

They both complained that Ms Jones often made unannounced visits to their home - which had been provided by the company - even after they asked her to arrange visits in advance.

They said they had the right to the "quiet enjoyment of their tenanted premises".

The Authority ultimately upheld all their claims.

When the farm was sold, it found the company did not properly consult with them, and should have made efforts to find them new employment.

It also rejected counter-claims by Kershevin Farms that the couple did not properly look after its animals.

The company was ordered to collectively pay Mr Reiher and Ms Morgan $21,907.42 in unpaid wages and compensation and was criticised for repeat offending.

"There have been two previous Authority determinations in which KFL did not meet its obligations to the staff that it made redundant. In both cases, there were decisions against KFL for failing to use a proper, fair process in making its decision to make its employees redundant," the authority said.

"KFL was well aware that it got the process wrong in those cases. Therefore, its employees could expect it to get the process right in this case."

The decision revealed Mr Reiher quickly found new employment.

Former Council of Trade Unions head Helen Kelly has previously called for an inquiry into the pay and work conditions of farm workers, saying many farm workers were working up to 70 hours a week for low pay.

She said fatigue was a major cause of workplace accidents, and an official inquiry was needed to introduce regulations.

Earlier this year the government ruled out such an inquiry, saying standards were already in place.

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