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Restaurant chain denies wrongdoing

While the Masala Chain of Restaurants have been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the past six months, the Director of their owning companies says that media reports and comments on social websites have neither been fair nor bothered to explore facts. Joti Bhat said, “We have gone through the worst times, enduring unsavoury comments and biased information and sharply declining business. However, we have addressed the issues and have been in contact with the concerned departments of the Government.” As a newspaper that subscribes to balanced reporting, Indian Newslink decided to interview not only the owner of the Restaurants concerned but also some of their employees individually and independently. We also sought the comments of the relevant departments of the Government involved in the investigation, but they preferred not to comment, stating that their inquiry was incomplete. The allegations Following were the allegations raised against the Masala Restaurants: 1. The Restaurants were breaching some provisions of Labour Laws 2. Employees were forced to work long hours, in some cases up to 70 hours a week 3. They were being paid about $4 an hour 4. They were paid in cash to avoid PAYE remittance to Inland Revenue Department (IRD) 5. They were subject to inhuman or substandard working and living conditions and 6. They were being treated with disrespect. The Masala Group accounts for ten restaurants owned by as many companies, accounting for more than 125 full time and part-time employees. All restaurants are open seven days a week but for no more than 12 hours each day including lunch and dinner, with breaks between the two sessions. Full time employees work in shifts, while part-time employees including students work for a maximum of 20 hours every week in terms of the law. Documentary proof Ms Bhat showed us documents relating to all the employees, according to which all of them were paid at least the current minimum wage of $13.75 per hour. A number of employees including chefs were on higher salary scale (up to $20 per hour). According to the documents, the Restaurants use payroll software, which credits salaries to the bank accounts of employees and their relevant PAYE contribution remitted to IRD conforming to cycles of payments. “We do not give cheques or make cash payments for salaries. However, in the case of an emergency, if an employee, who has to rush to his or her home country prefers to take their holiday pay in cash, we invariably agree since bank transfers may take at least two days. Such cash payments are made only on the specific request of an employee. We have maintained proper accounts of all payments made,” she said. Some questions If all documents are in order and if the employees who we met at random were receiving wages as per the Law and were happy with the management of the restaurant that employed them, what then triggered the controversy? According to Ms Bhat, the Department of Labour and the Labour Inspectorate of the Ministry of Innovation, Business & Employment raided all the Restaurants of the Masala brand (eight of them then) at the same time on May 16, questioned all the employees about their pay, working and living conditions and other details. Notices issued “The officials issued statutory notices to all the Restaurants requiring filing of documents relating to wages and timesheets in compliance of the Labour Law and Holiday Act. These were to be submitted by May 30, 2013. Unfortunately, I had to rush to India on May 29 to attend to my father who was critically ill. I wrote to the Labour Inspectorate on the day of my departure seeking up to four weeks extension. I returned a week later and wrote to the officials on or about June 20, seeking meeting to submit the required documents. But they refused to understand,” she said. A spokesperson for the Ministry said that official comments will not be forthcoming until the investigation was complete. Employees speak The employees interviewed by us confirmed that their salaries were either at the minimum wage prescribed or more. “The Masala Restaurants employ more than 125 people. It is impossible that any of us would keep quiet if we are being exploited. What you have read or heard is apparently rumours spread by some unscrupulous people,” they said. Another young man, employed as a Duty Manager at a Masala Restaurant said, “I left Masala last year to work at another Indian restaurant in the City. Not only was I told to work without pay until my work permit was issued, the boss wanted me to pay for the work permit and other immigration charges. I have returned to Masala and I am very happy here,” he said. Readers who have documentary proof that may be contrary to the contents of the above report and those who wish to comment in general may write to editor@indiannewsink.co.nz

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