The exploitation of the 7 migrant workers, who were of Indian descent, took place between December 2017 and December 2018.

Employment Court Judge JC Holden also ordered Ajay Sharma and Kavita Sharma, who previously owned Prisha’s Royal Cambridge Indian Restaurant in Cambridge and Roquette Restaurant and Bar in Whakatāne, to pay costs of $78,429, taking the total they must pay to more than $420,000.

She said the Sharmas showed little remorse for the compliance breaches and produced falsified documents to justify some of their behaviour.

Head of Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate, Simon Humphries, believed it was appropriate that the owners of the 2 restaurants had been made to pay significant compensation to the workers they had exploited, as well as pay the wage arrears they owed.

“At the heart of this offending are vulnerable workers who have simply been exploited and denied basic minimum employment standards. As a result, they suffered considerable distress,” said Simon Humphries.

“Exploitation of workers is unacceptable. This was deliberate and systemic offending across 2 businesses. The penalties awarded demonstrates the serious nature of this offending and sends a very clear message to businesses who exploit vulnerable workers for their own financial gain. The consequences of such actions could be severe so it’s not worth the risk.”

In her determination, Judge Holden said the employees all gave credible evidence of the stress they felt working for the defendants. “Some employees spoke of feeling caged or like a slave,” she said.

“Those employees were isolated from family; several were young and most were visa-dependant. The inherent inequality of power in the employment relationship helped make the breaches possible,” Judge Holden said.

Simon Humphries said the Labour Inspectorate will continue to vigorously monitor potential migrant worker exploitation and enforce compliance when necessary. “We are pleased we were able to help these workers and bring an end to the gross exploitation they suffered.”

The Labour Inspectorate was also successful in obtaining a Freezing Order against the defendants, allowing the Labour Inspectorate to secure funds from the defendants to pay the arrears and compensation costs in full to the employees.

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.