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Taratahi: Staffers still owed pay

The Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre in Masterton. PHOTO/FILE

A former employee of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre says he is not holding his breath for the money owed to him.

Earlier this month, the Times-Age reported that all entitlements of former training centre employees had been paid out in full.

That was inaccurate.

While all employee preferential entitlements had been paid in full, unsecured employee entitlements remained unpaid.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, when a company went into liquidation, employees were not entitled to preferential payment of any wages or salary earned four months prior to the liquidation.

They were not entitled to preferential payment of any wages or salary earned for work after the business went into liquidation, nor any bonuses or other incentives.

The former employee of Taratahi, who asked not to be named, said that he and other former employees had been paid preferential claims consisting of holiday pay, redundancy pay, and suspension pay.

In their first report, liquidators David Ruscoe and Malcolm Moore of independent accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton had estimated total employee preferential entitlements at more than $2 million.

Sales of livestock and equipment had generated funds that helped to pay off these claims.

However, the former employee said he was still owed more than $5500 in unsecured claims, including pay in lieu of notice and alternative leave.

Liquidators had received 247 unsecured creditors’ claims to date, totalling more than $15 million, according to their fifth report published earlier this month.

The number of claims had been greater, but 20 staff had transferred their payments to the Southern Institute of Technology [SIT] as part of the sale agreement of the Telford Campus in August 2019.

Taratahi had employed 250 staff, of whom about 40 had worked at the Telford Campus in the South Island.

The former employee said that neither he nor his fellow employees had seen the closure of Taratahi coming.

“On the day, we got dragged into a room and they said, ‘This is what’s happening – it’s called liquidation’ … And that was it.”

In a statement provided via Grant Thornton in December 2018, Taratahi board chairwoman Mavis Mullins had said that the liquidation was distressing for both staff and the board, which would have celebrated 100 years in 2019.

“Our main concerns are for our students, staff, animal welfare, and our creditors and partners,” Mullins had said.

However, the former employee felt that the board had not been transparent in their dealings with employees. He said that board members had known that liquidation was a certainty months before telling other employees.

“You worked your arse off while you were there, and all of a sudden, this has happened.”

Mullins said on Wenesday that she could not comment on the liquidation process.

The former employee said that since the announcement of liquidation, he had only received emails every six months at the same time as official liquidation updates were made publicd.

“It basically says the same thing every time,” he said.

He did not see any end to the liquidation process in sight.

“It’s been that long, and I think I’m in the same boat as other ex-employees … They’re just writing it off.”

Liquidator David Ruscoe said that the three Taratahi farms were running at a profit, which enabled further funds to be made available for creditors to be paid out.

“The former employee will be paid out in full, hopefully,” Ruscoe said.

“As soon as we’re able to sell that property, they will be – all going to plan.”

The saleability of the land was being determined by the High Court.

“The sale of the land is the only way that creditors will get most if not all of the amount due to them,” Ruscoe said.

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