Individuals cannot hide behind company names to get away with exploitation
A horticulture employer has again been penalised by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), this time for breaches against migrant employees in the Bay of Plenty.
Gautam Rajan Kapur has been ordered by the ERA to pay more than $25,000 for employment breaches committed against four migrant workers.
In 2015, the ERA penalised three Hawke’s Bay businesses, associated to Kapur, $22,500 for failure to provide employment records to the Labour Inspector.
In 2019, the Labour Inspectorate took action against Kapur after receiving a complaint from four Singaporean women hired by Kapur for pruning work while they were visiting the Bay of Plenty on a working holiday.
The women worked for five days on a kiwifruit orchard in Pukehina operated by Joba Orchard Limited, but were never paid for their work.
Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager, Natalie Gardiner said the employees were “young and vulnerable”.
“It was their first time in New Zealand, and Kapur’s actions not only undermined the worker’s rights, but also New Zealand’s international reputation,” said Gardiner.
Moreover, Kapur had set up a sham business, Sunrise Hort Limited, in another person’s name to try and avoid personal responsibility for the exploitation.
“When approached by the Labour Inspector, Kapur claimed that he was merely an employee at Sunrise Hort, and not responsible for the breaches. Evidence provided by the employees, who had since returned to Singapore, proved this was not the case,” said Gardiner.
The ERA found Kapur personally responsible for the breaches and ordered him to pay $18,000 in penalties ($12,000 of which will go to the workers) and $5,451 in costs incurred by the Labour Inspectorate during the investigation.
Kapur has also been ordered by the ERA to pay $2,143 to the four workers in outstanding wages and holiday pay.
Gardiner said individuals cannot hide behind company names to get away with exploitation, nor can they blatantly lie about an employment relationship, as was the case with Kapur.
“In the past year, the Inspectorate took 20 cases to the ERA or the Employment Court seeking personal liability against directors responsible for employment law breaches. This is a significant increase on previous years,” said Gardiner.
Kapur was well known in the Bay of Plenty and associated with at least 16 horticulture companies. He has previously been investigated by government authorities and banned from managing companies.
Gardiner said that while the kiwifruit industry has checks in place, more should be done by the industry to make sure this type of behaviour is detected and eradicated if they are to protect workers, their brand and New Zealand’s reputation here and overseas.
“This should include businesses such as Joba Orchard taking ownership of their supply chains and conducting due diligence to ensure their contractors are compliant with legislative requirements,” said Gardiner.
“The Labour Inspectorate has been discussing these issues with the kiwifruit industry bodies and urges them to continue their efforts to combat non-compliance with the labour laws from the top down.”
The ERA also heard that Mohinder Singh, the director of Joba Orchard, had never heard of Sunrise Hort Limited but was acquainted with Mr Kapur.
Kapur introduced him to Dinesh Sharma who was the director of Danish Horticulture Limited, whom Joba Orchard contracted for pruning work.
Additionally, the ERA heard that Kapur and Sharma coerced another vulnerable individual into setting up the sham Sunrise Hort business, to avoid legal responsibility for the exploited workers.