Agriculture, forestry and fishing are among the biggest offenders against two pieces of legislation designed to protect workers from being ripped off by their bosses.
The sector topped a table of 19 industries for the number of complaints to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment relating to the Minimum Wage Act, and came second in complaints about the Wages Protection Act.
There were 843 complaints relating to the Minimum Wage Act and 248 about issues covered under the Wages Protection Act for the year ending November 14.
The figures, released under the Official Information Act, follow revelations that workers at petrol stations, supermarkets and elsewhere were illegally docked wages when customers stole from their employers, including driving off without paying for fuel and stealing groceries.
Wage-docking is an illegal practice, which breaches the two wage acts.
The Wages Protection Act prevents unlawful deductions from wages. It states employers can make deductions only when an employee has agreed to or requested the deduction in writing.
This can be varied or withdrawn at any time – even if the original consent was included in an employment agreement.
The Minimum Wage Act could also be contravened if deductions mean employees end up with less than the hourly minimum for hours worked.
Accommodation and food services had the most complaints under the Wages Protection Act, at 64. Agriculture, forestry and fishing had 63, followed by construction, retail trade and transport, postal and warehousing.
Least complained against were wholesale trade, arts and recreation services and information, media and telecommunications, with only three between them.
The Minimum Wage Act complaints table was topped by agriculture, forestry and fishing, with 231, followed by accommodation and food services, with 229, then retail trade, industries “not elsewhere included” and construction.
The fewest complaints were again recorded by information, media and telecommunications.
Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk said the numbers were surprisingly high. “Especially with regard to the Minimum Wage Act, the rules are reasonably straight-forward.”
She thought agriculture, forestry and fishing might have had so many complaints because the hours for which workers were paid sometimes did not reflect the hours they actually worked.
It was disappointing employers would break laws designed to protect the low-paid. “There are always rogue employers who are prepared to take advantage of people who don’t know better, but it’s still shocking.”