I was taken aback by the horticultural industry's response to the number of complaints lodged by workers over underpayment.
This week we reported that the Department of Labour has investigated 239 claims of underpayment in the Bay of Plenty's horticultural sector over the past five years.
The industry says the issue is not a major problem and only reflects a small portion of the 9000 workers employed by the kiwifruit industry in the Bay each season.
More than 200 claims of underpayment has to be considered high no matter what sector is involved. The number of complaints being lodged by horticultural workers is also increasing over time.
The Department of Labour says there is increasing awareness of worker rights amongst the general workforce in regard to minimum standards, which in turn has led to an increase in the number of complaints.
Official complaints (according to Ministry data) stayed low until 2009 then rose dramatically (from 3.2 complaints per 1000 employees in 2008 to 19.1 in 2009), and stayed high during 2010 (22.8) and 2011 (17.2).
These figures illustrate this problem is not new.
The issue of rogue elements among kiwifruit contractors not being paid the minimum wage has been reported before. Earlier this year the Bay of Plenty Times reported that researchers from AUT and Sydney universities found that foreign students desperate for work were being underpaid by some contractors.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco acknowledges that even though there is no direct link between the grower and an orchard contractor's employee, cases of underpayment reflect badly on the industry as a whole.
However, he maintains it is not a large problem when balanced against the fact that thousands of workers are employed each season.
Horticulture New Zealand spokeswoman Leigh Catley has a similar view. She says workers who find themselves being compensated incorrectly will either complain or leave to work somewhere else in the industry.
The point she is missing is that these workers shouldn't have to look elsewhere for a fair deal.
The horticultural industry - although seasonal - is no different to any other sector. Workers are entitled to a fair day's pay for a decent day's work, and if they are not being paid the minimum wage then they are being exploited.
Underpayment of workers can no longer be viewed as a minor problem.
The industry needs to weed out the rogue contractors who are giving it a bad name.