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$450,000 for “inexplicable and heinous” treatment of Hamilton liquor store employees

Husband and wife, Paramjeet Singh Parihar and Kuldip Kaur Parihar, who owned two Super Liquor stores in Hamilton have been penalised by the Employment Court.

They have been ordered to pay a record $200,000 in penalties for serious employment law breaches. This is in addition to $250,470 they already repaid to six former employees for minimum wage and holiday pay arrears.

The six employees worked at Super Liquor Flagstaff and Super Liquor Hillcrest between 2010 and 2017. They were paid between $8 and $11 an hour, which was well below the minimum wage in any given year. One employee alone was compensated $106,076 for seven years of underpayments.

Some of them worked more than 60-70 hours per week – including on public holidays. They had not been provided with any sick leave, holiday pay or public holiday entitlements. Where they took time off, they were either not paid or required to return the money to their employer or make up the time they were away by working for free.

The employers also failed to keep accurate employment records which the Court saw as an attempt to cover up their abuse.

All employees in question were migrant workers from India on temporary visas. Mr and Ms Parihar are themselves of Indian decent. The Judge noted this makes the way they treated their workers even more “inexplicable and heinous”.

The Court imposed penalties of $200,000 to be paid immediately by Mr and Ms Parihar. Following the Labour Inspectorate’s submissions, $80,000 of this will be paid as compensation to the workers for the mental and emotional hardships they endured at the hands of their employers. Failure to comply with these Court orders can lead to imprisonment.

The Court heard Mr and Ms Parihar have sold the two liquor stores and do not propose becoming employers again.

“This case sends a clear message that employers won’t get away with taking advantage of vulnerable workers for their own gain,” says Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Callum McMillan.

“Beyond that, it sends a message to all franchisors that they risk having their brand name marred unless they take steps to routinely monitor compliance with employment laws within their franchise group to prevent worker exploitation.

“It’s disappointing that exploitation such as this has occurred in a well-known franchise like Super Liquor. There is a growing demand in New Zealand and worldwide, for corporations to be ethical and accountable in their practices, which extends beyond direct legal obligations. This means their profits cannot be at the expense of frontline staff in their franchises or in their supply chains.

“The Labour Inspectorate has been working with Super Liquor Holdings to improve employment practices from the top down.

“Since earlier this year, Super Liquor has been taking steps to close the gaps that existed in their employment law compliance programme. We expect to see the results of this with future audits,” says Mr McMillan.

The Judge commended the Labour Inspector who worked on the case for her forensic research to uncover the extent of the breaches and gather evidence that left the employers no choice but to concede and repay the arrears owed to workers.

“Our inspectors use every means available to hold employers to account and seek justice for employees. However, employees must be willing to come forward with information to make this justice possible,” Mr McMillan says.

MBIE encourages anyone concerned about the employment situation of themselves or someone they know to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.