Another migrant worker speaks out against Maharaj Farms, says delayed pay, poor conditions led to suicidal thoughts

MBIE says its investigation into Maharaj Farms could take as long as 12 months to complete.
MBIE says its investigation into Maharaj Farms could take as long as 12 months to complete. Photo credit: Facebook / Maharaj Farms

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

Another former employee of Maharaj Farms has spoken out about his treatment by the Waikato dairy company, revealing he considered ending his life partly due to delayed pay and poor conditions while working there.

It comes after fellow migrant worker Rajesh Prasad alleged Davendra Maharaj - who with his wife is the only director and shareholder of Maharaj Farms - failed to pay him for more than a year-and-a-half's worth of work.

The accusations against Maharaj by current and former employees range from late payments and visa-related threats to withholding the COVID-19 wage subsidy and asking a worker to spy on a colleague.

The claims have prompted an investigation by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE's) Labour Inspectorate over potential employment standards breaches.

Maharaj had agreed to an interview with Newshub to respond to the claims made against him, but later pulled out after being advised not to speak to media by his lawyer.

The second worker, who asked to remain anonymous, says he was expected to work long hours almost every day including weekends, was asked to spy on colleagues, and was never given a contract.

He says this culminated in him quitting Maharaj Farms after just five weeks.

Like Prasad, this man didn't have permanent residency and alleges he didn't get paid the entire time he worked for Maharaj - only belatedly receiving his wages once he'd resigned.

The stress of providing for his family without pay, on top of the demands of working for Maharaj Farms, meant he came just "one step away" from taking his own life.

He says the thought of his young son growing up without a father is the only reason he's alive today.

'If there's this bullshit, I finish my life'

The employee had previous experience on dairy farms and approached Maharaj for a job in November 2020. He explained his visa would be expiring in March 2021 and he needed a job so he could apply for a new one.

He says he was told a contract would be drawn up and he'd be employed on an initial trial period for two days, then kept on as an employee if Maharaj was happy with his performance.

The man was grateful Maharaj had given him the opportunity to provide for his family, but living in Hamilton and working in Te Awamutu, the days were long and the commute expensive.

He told Newshub during this time, he was waking up at 3am so he could be at work at 5am, then getting home regularly as late as 8:30pm.

"I can't spend time with my children, with my wife. You just go and sleep and come back again."

The employee approached Maharaj Farms for a job in November last year so he could apply for a new visa.
The employee approached Maharaj Farms for a job in November last year so he could apply for a new visa. Photo credit: Facebook / Maharaj Farms

He says during his few weeks with the company he was asked to be "a CCTV camera" for Maharaj - to spy on Prasad by recording him on camera, then send Maharaj the footage.

But his main concern was about his lack of contract and salary. He says after a week or two without either he was beginning to become nervous and approached Maharaj - but it was bad news.

"I said, 'can you send me the salary on my account?' and he said 'salary's not coming to you'. I said 'why?' and he said 'because you are not working properly'," he recounted.

"I said: 'Who said to you I'm not working properly? If I'm not working good ... you just tell me.' He said, 'no, no, I'm just kidding'."

During this time the man injured his thumb while tending to a cow - but much like Prasad, who also suffered an injury at work, couldn't make an ACC claim as he had no proof he was employed by Maharaj Farms.

Running short on money, and with a commute costing him upwards of $50 a day, things were becoming difficult financially and the employee was having to dig deep into his personal savings to keep his family going.

He says contract talks went round in circles and the stress was taking a huge mental toll, driving him "one step away" from taking his own life.

"I'm pissed off, because these two months when I'm working, it's so stressful," he told Newshub.

"To be very frank, sometimes I'm out of my mind and basically [I planned to] ... finish my life.

"I [was] happy when I came to New Zealand. New Zealand is my dream country... I'm a good worker every time I go on Maharaj Farms. But if there's this bullshit, I'm just stressed and finish my life - that's it."

The only thing that kept him alive were photos of his son, he says, and the prospect of his family being left without anyone to provide for them.

"What if I [end my life]? Who's responsible to look after my family? No one."

On January 1, he resigned and asked Maharaj for his contract and his money.

"I said: 'You're no good for my family, not good for me. You promised me you were helping for my visa and all these things and at the end of the month you never give me the contract. So what should I do?'"

In messages seen by Newshub, the man tells Maharaj to "stop playing games with me". Maharaj replies with a message signed off with "if I play games you may be going back mate" - an apparent reference to his vulnerable visa situation.

Eventually Maharaj agreed to pay what he was owed, though the man says this came in instalments ending on January 20. He never saw a contract.

"He's a very bad man," he said of Maharaj. "Never work for an employer like Maharaj. Seriously stressful life."

He says Maharaj used him and should face prison for how he treated him and Prasad. He's now working elsewhere and says he's much happier.

It's not just this man and Prasad who have spoken out about working for Maharaj, though; two other migrant employees also had bad experiences while employed by him.

One, who was on a work visa, shared a screenshot of a text message exchange in which Maharaj labelled them an "opportunist" and threatened to withdraw support for their permanent residency application.

They say he apologised afterwards and explained he was drunk when he'd sent the threat, but also made a similar threat over the phone on another occasion.

The other employee was regularly paid their wages late, causing major financial stress as they were trying to provide for their spouse and children.

After leaving their job, the employee alleges they had to go to Maharaj's home to claim the pay they hadn't yet received. Maharaj allegedly told them there had been an issue with the bank and belatedly paid them the missing wages.

The Labour Inspectorate confirmed an investigation has been launched into Maharaj Farms over employment standards.

An MBIE spokesperson said it could take as long as 12 months to complete the investigation.

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