Auckland restaurant ordered to pay nearly $50,000 for exploiting migrant worker

"To exploit migrant workers is completely unacceptable."
"To exploit migrant workers is completely unacceptable." Photo credit: Getty.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ordered an Auckland restaurant and its owners to pay nearly $50,000 in penalties and unpaid wage arrears for exploiting a migrant worker. 

A statement from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says Dansan Investments Limited, which operates as Saaj Indian Cuisine, and its two directors Mary George Varghese and Sheik Abdul Kader are liable for the sum. 

They must pay $32,000 in wage arrears and one-third of $16,100 in penalties directly to the worker.

It comes after a Labour Inspectorate investigation into Dansan Investments Limited, the second time the group has been investigated.

The court heard that the worker was told to make a $6000 premium payment to the employers to secure a work visa application. To pay for this, the worker had to borrow money from their friends.

"This is yet another example of an employer using their position of power to exploit a migrant worker, who relies on them for a work visa and their right to continue to live and work in New Zealand," said Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden.

"Migrants to New Zealand should never have to pay a 'premium' or any sort of extra cost to secure a work visa from their employers. For employers to demand such a payment is illegal. To exploit migrant workers is completely unacceptable, and the Labour Inspectorate will take full compliance action against employers who do this."

Lumsden said the ERA has made it clear "this type of offending" won't be tolerated by the authority.

On top of the premium payment required, the statement said the employee also wasn't paid for every hour they worked.

An employment agreement said the worker should work a minimum of 35 hours a week, but she consistently worked between 40 and 65.5 hours a week. However, she was only paid for between 28 and 33 a week. 

Holiday payments weren't made, nor was the employee given time and a half for work done on public holidays.

"Dansan also had no clear wage records. This required the investigation to source alternative proof, in this case the use of public transport travel records, to disprove Dansan’s claim that she didn’t work at the restaurant during those times," said Lumsden.

A former employee of Dansan complained in 2015 regarding a failure to pay minimum entitlements. That saw an Improvement Notice issued by the Inspectorate, but it wasn't adhered to, according to the statement. 

"MBIE encourages anyone concerned about the employment situation for themselves or someone they know to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment."