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Exploitation of single worker results in $188,500 to be paid

A Christchurch suburban dairy and its owners have been ordered to pay $85,000 in penalties for exploiting and underpaying a staff member by more than $103,000 over a four-year period.

Indy Supa, a dairy in the Christchurch suburb of Shirley has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to pay $61,000, and similarly its sole director Kavita Tailor and her spouse Mayurkumar Tailor have been ordered to collectively pay $24,000, for exploiting and underpaying a staff member more than $103,000.

This case highlights one of the highest amounts of money owed to a single exploited worker that the Labour Inspectorate has investigated in recent years.

An investigation by the Inspectorate found that between March 2013 and February 2017 the affected staff member was often working up to 92 hours per week, not paid minimum wage or correct annual leave and holiday pay, and accurate time and leave records were not kept.

Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Jeanie Borsboom says, “The affected employee was subjected to monstrous hours during that time. The employee was physically and mentally strained, telling us he worked these hours without breaks, couldn’t use the washroom and struggled to sleep.

“The persons involved, Mrs and Mr Tailor, disputed that the employee was paid the minimum wage for all hours worked and went to the extent of providing false reconstructed records as evidence in the investigation.

“Mrs Tailor stated that it was the employee’s role to keep time records. Having been in business since 2010, the employer should be well aware that it is always the employer’s responsibility to keep time and wage records.

“Messages from Mrs Tailor to the employee using the mobile message application Whatsapp were used as part of the Inspectorate’s investigation. These didn’t match up when cross checked with the reconstructed records.

“A message from the employee was also sent to Mrs Tailor, requesting lessened hours and better treatment.  Mr Tailor then pressured the employee to retract the message and relied on the retraction to claim the employee’s complaints were untrue.

“It was clear from all evidence that the employee feared for his treatment and wellbeing. Migrant workers are an important part of New Zealand society and this treatment is completely unacceptable. The Labour Inspectorate takes all cases of exploitation seriously.

“Migrant workers are a vulnerable part of the employment market and often don’t know their rights.  Migrants can suffer from the threat of the cancellation of their work visas and can be vulnerable through desperation to obtain residency.

“This case is a reminder that migrant workers must be treated the same as New Zealanders in the workforce, and where we have evidence of otherwise, we will ensure employers are disciplined accordingly.

“Consumers also have an important role to play here, by being vigilant where they spend their money. Employers like this also disadvantage those dairies that follow employment law, by giving them an unfair market advantage,” says Ms Borsboom.

MBIE is currently leading an in-depth policy and operational review to better understand temporary migrant worker exploitation in New Zealand and identify impactful and enduring solutions.

MBIE encourages anyone who has information about minimum standards or visa conditions not being met to phone the Ministry’s service centre where calls will be handled in a confidential manner on 0800 20 90 20.