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Employer fined for exploiting students

The fact that the Government is getting tough with businesses that exploit migrant workers and students was evident last week as the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) obliged the owner of three convenience and liquor stores in Auckland to pay more than $210,000 for breaching the provisions of the Employment Law.

Following a report filed by investigating officers of the Labour Inspectorate working in the Business, Innovation & Employment Ministry, ERA imposed penalties and wage repayments on three companies, reportedly owned by the same person.

The total amount involved was $211,574.33.

A statement issued by the Ministry said that its Labour Inspectors had investigated complaints brought against companies that operate Civic Convenience, Symonds Liquor and Sky Liquor by 11 employees in July 2012.

The Ministry filed cases against the companies with ERA.

Unfair employment

The complainants were in New Zealand from India on student visas and reported being underpaid by the companies, which shared the same sole director and owner, whose name was given as Ala’a Bader.

“Following an extensive investigation the Labour Inspectorate found the men were not receiving their minimum wage or holiday pay entitlements, were not provided with employment agreements, and accurate time and wage records were not kept.

The Inspectorate demanded the employer make correct wage payments but when he failed to respond the claim was brought to the ERA,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Based on the Labour Inspectorate report, ERA determined that $60,000 should be paid as a penalty for breaching the Minimum Wage Act 1983 and Holidays Act 2003; $55,000 for breaches of the Employment Relations Act 2000 by not providing employment agreements; and $96,574.33 as minimum wages and holiday pay.

Vulnerable youth

Labour Inspectorate Northern Regional Manager David Milne said that the complainants were vulnerable because of their visa status and that Mr Bader had exploited them.

“Exploitation of workers breaches New Zealand law. The Labour Inspectorate will not hesitate to enforce and prosecute breaches of minimum employment standards such as minimum wage and holiday entitlements,” Mr Milne said.

According to him, such businesses gain an unfair advantage over their competitors.

“Most fair-minded New Zealanders do not support exploitation of labour,” he said.

As reported in our June 15, 2013 issue, migrant workers who are abused and exploited by their bosses can complain to the authorities without the fear of being deported, under a new policy of the Government.

An Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Circular, issued on June 10, invites victims of workplace exploitation to provide details of their plight to its officials.

Such whistle blowers will be assured of ‘amnesty’ on some counts of immigration.

Some concessions

These would include protection against their unscrupulous employers, disregard of any previous periods of unlawfulness in the applicant’s immigration history during which the applicant was employed and provides evidence of workplace exploitation in respect of the employer concerned.

The new provision has been designed to stop employers from taking undue advantage of migrant workers but does not include other unrelated offences and criminal charges in which the applicant may be involved.

Labour inspectors are currently examining complaints against the owner of an Indian restaurant chain, who is alleged to be paying his foreign workers less than $4 hour and making them work 70 hours or more every week, without even a day off.

They are also looking into complaints of unaccounted cash payments as salaries, delayed payments, poor living and working conditions.

Serious view

Dean Blakemore, Acting National Manager (Fraud & Compliance Operations) at the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment said that the Government views exploitation of migrant workers seriously.

“Exploitation can take various forms including poor pay, withholding of wages, long working hours, non-adherence to relevant labour laws (such as the Holidays Act), poor working conditions, no employment contract and so on. Exploitation often involves a combination of these issues,” he told Indian Newslink.

He said that there have also been complaints of employers threatening migrant workers and their families in their home country, treating them as bonded labour and scaring them of deportation.

He said victims should not hesitate to contact INZ officials.

“Most fair-minded New Zealanders do not support labour exploitation. By breaking the law, these businesses gain an unfair advantage over their competitors.”

“I would also encourage anyone in this situation or who knows of people in this situation to phone our call centre on 0800 20 90 20 where concerns will be handled in a safe environment.”

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