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Migrant workers exploited in two remote New Zealand shops

The Employment Court has ruled three migrant employees working in remote New Zealand will receive $10,000 from an employer couple who persistently breached their employment rights.

Labour Inspectorate Retail Sector Lead Loua Ward says, “The workers originally came to New Zealand on student visas and upon completion of their studies, secured work visas to allow them to work as shop assistants.

“The Court heard that the employees were underpaid and overworked. In addition to undertaking shop assistant tasks, the workers looked after their employers’ children, washed their cars, and cleaned their houses.”

Prabh Limited, and its shareholder and director couple Rajwinder Kaur and Baljinder Singh, were fined a total of $132,000 for significant breaches of the Minimum Wage and Holidays Act.

The Murupara store was a general store, while the small Kopuriki store sold liquor and petrol. Both stores are owned by Prabh Limited and trade independently.

Prabh Limited, Kaur and Singh will be placed on the Stand Down list for two years and will be prevented from hiring migrant workers for that time.

The case follows an investigation by the Labour Inspectorate, first heard at the Employment Relations Authority, before new employment legislation was introduced to address serious breaches of minimum employment entitlements, which allowed it to be moved to the Employment Court.

The Court ruled the treatment of the three employees was such a persistent breach over a long period of time, that it could not have been considered unintentional.

The breaches included failure to keep wage records and evidence of retrospective creation of employment agreements, going back to 2014.

“What’s even more concerning is that the managers had received previous reminders from the Labour Inspectorate of their obligations to provide minimum wages, holidays and holiday pay, following a complaint made by a former staff member.

“These two employers took unfair advantage of this situation, and the Judge agreed they had no intention of paying them what they were legally owed,” says Ms Ward.

The Court accepted the three workers suffered substantial financial losses, depression, stress and anxiety.

“It’s disappointing to see employers taking advantage of their employees, and gaining a competitive advantage over their law-abiding competitors. Employers should know that where we have evidence of this occurring, the Inspectorate will take action as necessary.

“Migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable section of the work force. They have the same rights as all other workers in New Zealand, but are often less likely to be aware of these than New Zealand workers.

“Addressing this exploitation is a priority for the Inspectorate and we continue to work with Immigration New Zealand and other government agencies to combat migrant exploitation,” says Ms Ward.

MBIE encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation, or the situation of someone they know, to call 0800 20 90 20 where they can report their concerns in a safe environment.