Rotorua holiday park, owner to pay 'record' sum for 'nightmare' worker exploitation

A holiday business and its owner will pay a record $680,350 in penalties and unpaid wages to three migrant workers, who have compared the business to a "prison".

New Zealand Fusion International LTD and its owner Shenshen Guan, which operates Golden Springs Holiday Park in the rural Rotorua District community of Reporoa, is required to pay the sum within 28 days, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Following an investigation, the court heard that two of the migrant workers mortgaged a house and withdrew their children's university funds in China to each pay a $45,000 premium "bond" to Guan before travelling to New Zealand to work at the holiday park. 

"They arrived on visitor's visas and began working unlawfully under false promises of being paid," MBIE said in a release.

The workers received no payment despite labouring seven days a week, the court heard. Guan said "free" food and accommodation on site should be enough compensation, claiming she couldn't pay them as they had no working visas after altering their employment contracts.

The workers compared their time at the holiday park to "a nightmare" and a "prison". One even said they "wanted to die".

"None of us want to believe that this sort of thing happens in New Zealand... but it is happening and we have to deal with it if we want to maintain our reputation as a fair country to work in and trade with," said Stu Lumsden, the national manager of Labour Inspectorate.

New Zealand Fusion has been ordered to pay $300,000 in penalties. Guan is personally liable for an additional $150,000.

Each of the three workers will receive $100,000 of this total as well as a further payment in unpaid wages and compensation - estimated to be between $69,000 and roughly $92,000.

"This judgement sends a strong message that employers who exploit their workers will be put out of business and charged penalties far in excess of what they may have gained," Lumsden said.

New Zealand Fusion and Guan are banned from employing staff for 18 months.

The Government has also committed to implementing policy changes as soon as 2020 to address migrant exploitation in New Zealand. 

The Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation Review, led by MBIE, recently consulted on a set of proposed changes to prevent migrant exploitation, protect exploited migrants and better enforce appropriate working conditions and immigration obligations.

Golden Springs Holiday Park currently holds a "poor" 1.5 rating out of five on TripAdvisor, with recent reviews calling the accomodation "poorly maintained" and "disgusting".