19 July 2024

Exploited migrant worker in Central Otago felt like a ‘prisoner’

A young migrant worker who worked as Assistant Manager at the Criterion Club in Alexandra, felt like a ‘prisoner’ after being seriously exploited by her Central Otago employer for almost a year.

The Criterion Club, operated by 4S Hospitality Limited and also known as Middle Pub, is a bar, restaurant and hotel business in Alexandra which operates electronic gaming machines (pokies) and TAB services.

The young migrant woman who did not want to be named, regretted coming to New Zealand after experiencing exploitation by the business.

“I have never seen a jail, but I felt I was a prisoner. I was sorry I had ever come to New Zealand. It was a very emotional time and I just wanted to leave,” the now former employee said.

Criterion Club
4S Hospitality Ltd was found to have falsified work records

Now living in the North Island, the woman said she had worked for 50 to 60 hours a week as Assistant Manager at the Criterion Club in Alexandra between June 2019 and February 2020, but was only paid for 30 hours a week. She usually worked six days a week. She said she felt trapped as she and her husband were living at the club as part of her employment agreement and had she resigned they would have had nowhere to live.

“My work situation had a negative effect on my family and social life. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt very sad.”

The ERA accepted that the business had failed to keep accurate records for the time the woman worked there and for some of her holiday entitlements. The Authority awarded arrears to the woman and penalties to the employer.

After nine months working for the business, the woman decided to resign. When she asked for her final holiday pay her employers kept making excuses about why they couldn’t pay. It was at that point that she approached the Labour Inspectorate for help.

The Inspectorate found 4S Hospitality Limited had kept falsified records that under-recorded the hours the complainant worked. The labour inspector investigating the case used external records from the EFTPOS provider, the electronic gaming machines and data from the TAB terminal at the venue to identify the true hours the complainant worked. As these breaches were serious the Labour Inspectorate took the complainant’s case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

As the business had failed to keep accurate records this resulted in her not being paid for every hour she worked and for some of her holiday entitlements, ERA awarded the woman $14,770 in arrears for money she had earned but was not paid.

The ERA ordered penalties of $24,000 against the company and $12,000 against Kuljinder Singh Sidhu who helped run the business and had hired the woman. The ERA found that even though Sidhu did not own the business he knew the company was not recording all the time the complainant worked and was not complying with the relevant holiday pay requirements.

Half of the penalties are to be paid to the complainant. In total, together with wages arrears and interest, the amount due to the complainant is $34,270.

The ERA also ordered 4S Hospitality to pay the woman $1,500 in interest. 4S Hospitality and Kuljinder Singh Sidhu were ordered to pay the Labour Inspectorate costs of $8,071.

Simon Humphries, Head of Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate, said “It’s disheartening to see that this employee felt helpless and suffered the deliberate and systemic offending that her employer caused…“Fortunately, the complainant in this case did the right thing by reporting the abuse and our team was able to help.”

The Labour Inspectorate encourages anyone concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know to phone MBIE’s service centre on 0800 20 90 20 where all concerns are handled in a safe environment.

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