The Cost of Exploitation – Farmer Fined $215,000 For Exploiting Migrant Workers.

A large part of New Zealand agriculture depends on seasonal migrant labour to operate. While these workers are a valuable part of our economy, they are not always treated that way. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for NZ businesses to be caught exploiting migrant labour in favour of their bottom line.

In a recent decision from the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), a Southland dairy farm and its owner have been ordered to pay penalties amounting to $215,000 for the exploitation of three Indonesian migrant workers.

These damages are for breaching “numerous minimum employment standards” over the course of employment from December 2017 to February 2022.

According to the ERA, these breaches included:

  • not paying workers the minimum wage,
  • not paying for holiday and leave pay,
  • unlawfully deducting money from their wages,
  • forcing the workers to pay premiums,
  • not keeping accurate wage or time records.

It was also reported that Abdul-Jabbar had kept an employee’s passport and ID even after they had asked for it back.

These breaches were raised in 2020 when one of the employees contacted the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The employee complained that he had not received the salary recorded in his employment agreement or given the number of days off he was owed.

This sparked an investigation by the Labour Inspectorate who found that Abdul-Jabbar was in breach of “numerous minimum employment standards”.

Abdul-Jabbar had created two separate employment agreements for each employee. One of the agreements stated an inflated salary amount that met their visa requirements and the other stated a lower salary amount that was shown to the labour inspector.

The Labour Inspectorate concluded that not one employee was paid according to either of these agreements.

In addition to this, Abdul-Jabbar deducted wages from one employee that were purported to go back to their recruiters in Indonesia.


ERA Reasoning

The ERA said that was clearly not just a matter of ignorance or poor business management but rather a “deliberate and systemic exploitation” of workers who did not know any better.

These were workers who immigrated for a better life. They did not understand the laws or standards that governed employment relations in NZ.

The ERA said that “Mr. Abdul- Jabbar knowingly disregarded the law governing employment. He took advantage of [the migrant employees] because they were not from New Zealand and were from Indonesia, where he too was from.”

The $215,000 damages imposed were said by the ERA to demonstrate “the serious nature of the breaches and sends a clear message to business owners who choose to exploit their workers for financial gain. There will be consequences.”


Recent News

Unfortunately, this sort of case is not rare. In recent news, Green Party MP Darleen Tana has been caught up in her husband’s allegations of migrant worker exploitation. This has brought attention to the widespread nature of the problem here in NZ.

Whether this problem is becoming more prevalent, or we are just becoming more aware of it, the ERA has made it clear that it will continue to take these cases seriously.



The ERA has shown in the case of Abdul-Jabbar, that employers financially enriching themselves at the expense of their employees will not be tolerated and that “there will be consequences”.

While it is encouraging that the ERA is taking these cases seriously and imposing significant fines, these sorts of issues can be avoided all together. Sound legal advice can spot the red flags before they become an issue and reach a solution that protects all parties involved.


If it’s too late however and you suspect you have been or are being exploited, we can still assist you. Get in touch with the team here at Watermark Employment Law – we would love to assist you in resolving this matter.