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ERA penalises Brews Liquor stores $34,000 for migrant worker exploitation

The liquor retail sector is once again in the spotlight for disregarding minimum employment standards.

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered Preeminent Enterprise Limited (trading as Brews Liquor Waimauku) to pay penalties of $25,000 for employment breaches at two Auckland stores.

A Labour Inspectorate investigation found Preeminent Enterprise Limited, which owned and operated the Brews Liquor stores in Pukekohe and Waimauku, had breached the employment standards of three migrant workers.

The company had failed to pay the minimum wage for all hours worked and correctly calculate and provide holiday pay and leave. In addition, its director Akash Patel who had complete oversight of the business and responsibility for the daily operations was found personally liable for a penalty of $9,000.

Preeminent Enterprise has since sold the Brews Liquor Pukekohe store. The Brews Liquor Waimauku store is now operated by another company, Mega Ventures Limited, in which Mr Patel is a director.

Labour Inspectorate retail sector strategy lead Loua Ward says the company benefitted from its failure to meet its statutory obligations and took advantage of these migrant employees.

“This was the second time Preeminent Enterprise Limited had been investigated by the Inspectorate involving extensive effort. But it had failed to sustain the improvements it had promised, including record keeping and payments,” says Ms Ward.

“The penalties awarded reflect the seriousness of this case. While the arrears to the workers are low, set at $3,565, these breaches were intentional and such conduct by employers is unacceptable.

“Ultimately, this employer deprived three low-paid migrant workers who were on work visas of the pay they were entitled to and benefited from an improved cash flow. This helped them gain an unfair advantage over similar businesses.

The liquor retail sector in New Zealand has been the subject of recent investigations by the inspectorate and an Alcohol Regulatory and Licencing Authority Decision in September cancelled liquor licences for five Canterbury liquor stores, following findings of worker exploitation.

ARLA decision tips power balance for exploited workers in liquor retail

“The Labour Inspectorate continues to engage with a group of liquor retail and supply leaders to work towards fixing the issue and help the sector take proactive steps to lift employment law compliance.”

“New measures also came into force in July to better protect migrant workers, including the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa. A dedicated 0800 number and web form are available too, to make it easier to report exploitation and more information is on our website,” Loua Ward said.

The Inspectorate encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know to contact the Employment New Zealand service centre where concerns are handled in a safe environment.

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