Exclusive: Major increase in NZ hospitality workers being exploited

Government figures released to Newshub show a significant increase in complaints of employers exploiting workers and breaching laws in the hospitality industry.

A third of all worker complaints across New Zealand now come from the sector, and the Labour Inspectorate is urging the public to stop visiting bars and restaurants that exploit workers.

Former chef Marvin Morales says he was never given a contract and ended up quitting his job after allegedly being assaulted by his boss.

If you have further information, contact Michael Morrah - michaelmorrah@mediaworks.co.nz

Mr Morales came to New Zealand for a better life with his family, but is now contemplating throwing in the dream and heading home to the Philippines.

"It's not good. It's very traumatising. I complain to the police because I don't want it to happen to anyone else because you know, it's very traumatic," he explained.

Mr Morales told Newshub he has been left with neck pain and bruises after the assault outside the Kalye Manila restaurant where Mr Morales worked.

His former boss disputes the claims, telling Newshub "there was no assault."

However, a doctor's report shows Mr Morales did complain of injuries.

During his six weeks on the job, he says he asked for an employment contract, but never got one. His former boss told Newshub he was a new business owner.

"This is our first business. We just got into this. We didn't know much about it, you know."

But Labour Inspectorate National Manager Stu Lumsden says there's no excuse.

"It's a clear breach of the law, and we can instantly issue an infringement notice which is a $1000 instant fine."

Hospitality sector employers amassed 247 complaints in the 2016/2017 financial year. That shot up to 315 complaints for the 2017/2018 financial year - a 27 percent increase.

Mr Lumsden says those in the hospitality sector do breach employment standards on a regular basis - and with complaints surging, it's not just up to authorities to get the message across.

"We need the public to make firm decisions about where they eat based on whether employment breaches have occurred."

Mandeep Singh Bela, who helps support migrant workers as a coordinator for the Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), says complaints of intimidation and assault in the workplace are relatively common.  

"New Zealand is known to be a very safe country and also a very fair country," he explained.

"For us to live up to that expectation we need to make sure all migrants are looked after, all workers are looked after."

Recent law changes propose removing the need for students to have post-study work visas sponsored by an employer. In the past, workers have complained of exploitation, but fearing they'd lose their job or visa, they didn't speak out.

Mr Bela welcomes the changes, but says they don't go far enough.

"As we understand it, the new changes would only apply to new migrants coming to this country from next year."

The Labour Inspectorate believes the surge in complaints in the hospitality sector is because it's being more proactive with its investigations.

In the first case of its kind, a Christchurch restaurant owner was recently banned from hiring staff after persistently breaking the law.

If you think employment standards have been breached, call MBIE on 0800 209 020.