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Exploited migrant employee felt like a prisoner

A young migrant worker says she felt like a "prisoner" and regretted coming to New Zealand after being seriously exploited by her Central Otago employer for almost a year.

"I have never seen a jail, but I felt I was a prisoner. I was sorry I had ever come to New Zealand. It was a very emotional time and I just wanted to leave," the now former employee said.

Now living in the North Island, the woman who did not want to be named, said she had worked for 50 to 60 hours a week as Assistant Manager at the Criterion Club in Alexandra between June 2019 and February 2020, but was only paid for 30 hours a week.

She usually worked six days a week. She said she felt trapped as she and her husband were living at the club as part of her employment agreement and had she resigned they would have had nowhere to live.

"My work situation had a negative effect on my family and social life. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt very sad."

After nine months working for the business, the woman decided to resign. When she asked for her final holiday pay her employers kept making excuses about why they couldn't pay. It was at that point that she approached the Labour Inspectorate for help.

The Inspectorate found 4S Hospitality Limited had kept falsified records that under-recorded the hours the complainant worked. The labour inspector investigating the case used external records from the EFTPOS provider, the electronic gaming machines and data from the TAB terminal at the venue to identify the true hours the complainant worked. As these breaches were serious the Labour Inspectorate took the complainant’s case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

The ERA accepted that the business had failed to keep accurate records for the time the woman worked there and that this resulted in her not being paid for every hour she worked and for some of her holiday entitlements. The Authority awarded the woman $14,770 in arrears for money she had earned but was not paid.

Penalties

The ERA ordered penalties of $24,000 against the company and $12,000 against Kuljinder Singh Sidhu who helped run the business and had hired the woman. The ERA found that even though Singh Sidhu did not own the business he knew the company was not recording all the time the complainant worked and was not complying with the relevant holiday pay requirements.

Half of the penalties are to be paid to the complainant. In total, together with wages arrears and interest, the amount due to the complainant is $34,270.

Simon Humphries, Head of Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate, said exploitation of workers and causing their health and wellbeing to suffer was unacceptable and remained a concern. He hoped employers tempted to take unfair advantage of their employees would take note that worker exploitation would not be tolerated.

"It's disheartening to see that this employee felt helpless and suffered the deliberate and systemic offending that her employer caused. As happened in this case, exploitative employers can expect to be heavily penalised for their wrongdoing."

"Fortunately, the complainant in this case did the right thing by reporting the abuse and our team was able to help."

The employee who is now more aware of her rights says "the support and advice I received from the Labour Inspectorate was wonderful. They helped me understand my rights. I would recommend that anyone who feels they are not being treated fairly at work to reach out to the Labour Inspectorate for help."

"Doing so changed my life and I now love this country because they looked after me," said the woman.

The Labour Inspectorate encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know to phone MBIE's service centre on 0800 20 90 20 where all concerns are handled in a safe environment.

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