New Zealand man fined for exploiting Singaporeans on working holiday

A photo taken in 2019 showing workers sorting out kiwis in China. A group of friends were not paid for pruning kiwifruit trees at an orchard in Pukehina, New Zealand.
A photo taken in 2019 showing workers sorting out kiwis in China. A group of friends were not paid for pruning kiwifruit trees at an orchard in Pukehina, New Zealand.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - A working holiday in New Zealand for four Singaporean women ended with them being owed money and becoming part of a long-drawn investigation by local authorities.

Hired for five days in 2017 to prune kiwifruit at an orchard in Pukehina, about 100km from Auckland, the group of friends were not paid for their work.

More than two years later, they are still owed NZ$535 (S$476) each. This was even after New Zealand's Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ordered the man who employed Ms Amy Lim Pui Yee, Ms Aw Qiyin, Ms Gwendaline Ang Hui Fen and Ms Poh Toon Ling to pay them last August.

For multiple employment breaches, Gautam Rajan Kapur was also ordered last month to pay NZ$18,000 in penalties, of which NZ$12,000 will go to the four women.

Kapur had failed to give the women legally compliant employment agreements, and did not give employment records to the authorities when requested. He also set up a sham company to try to avoid personal responsibility.

Recounting her experience on Tuesday (Jan 14), Ms Lim said the four of them made a complaint after growing frustrated with chasing Kapur for payment.

She told The New Paper: "He would say the payment would be delayed and there would be deductions because the job was not done well. But it had nothing to do with us. He was making all sorts of excuses."

"We didn't want it to happen to anyone else... I think some take it for granted that people on working holidays are there temporarily so they won't make an effort to make a complaint," she added.

QUIT JOB

Ms Lim, now 32 and working in customer service, had quit her job to go on the working holiday and decided to travel with the other three women, who planned similar trips.

 
 
 
 

She said the group had done some homework beforehand and this was their first job after arriving in New Zealand.

The four women met Kapur on Sept 19, 2017, to discuss the job and pay after seeing an online advertisement.

He arranged for the Singaporeans to start working the next day at the Pukehina orchard, owned and operated by kiwifruit-growing company Joba Orchard.

Nothing was put in writing at the time but when the women later asked him for a written agreement, he gave them blank employment agreement templates, telling them to write "Sunrise Hort" as their employer, without explaining how he was connected to it.

Kapur later claimed he was merely an employee at Sunrise Hort, but he had in fact coerced another man, an illegal immigrant, into setting up the entity. The then owner of Joba Orchard had never heard of Sunrise Hort but was acquainted with Kapur, the ERA heard.

The New Zealand Herald on Tuesday reported Labour Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner as saying: "Individuals cannot hide behind company names to get away with exploitation, nor can they blatantly lie about an employment relationship."

"The employees were young and vulnerable. It was their first time in New Zealand, and Mr Kapur's actions not only undermined the workers' rights, but also New Zealand's international reputation," she added.

Every year, up to 200 Singaporeans between the ages of 18 and 30 can apply for a working holiday visa to work and stay in New Zealand for six months.

- Additional reporting by David Sun