28 February 2024

Liquor operator to pay record penalty of $1.55m for exploiting migrant workers

In a landmark judgment, the Employment Court has ordered the Samra Holdings group of companies and an associate person involved in breaches of minimum employment standards to pay the highest record penalties.

The Samra Holdings group-that operates a liquor store, and a sixth defendant, Sukhdev Singh have been ordered to pay a total penalty amount of $1.55 million.

Of the total penalty amount of $1.55 million, Justice Kathryn Beck ordered paying the five migrant employees $255,000 in varying amounts, which is in addition to over $500,000 of arrears which has already been paid by the employer.

These employees did not receive minimum entitlements while working at the company’s liquor stores during various times between September 2015 and November 2019.

“The penalties are the highest awarded for employment breaches to date and the banning order of three years against the sixth defendant – Sukhdev Singh – is for the longest period of time, said Stu Lumsden, Head of Compliance & Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate.

The court identified 120 discrete breaches in employment standards and banned Singh, who exercised significant influence over the management and administration of the companies.

Singh was involved in 49 breaches of minimum entitlement provisions by Samra Holdings and three group companies, and these companies have been similarly banned for two years.

Singh, who has been in the retail liquor industry since 2005, had previously received an Improvement Notice from the Labour Inspectorate in 2014 for his kiwifruit business.

“This was deliberate and sustained exploitation of vulnerable migrants who were reliant on the employer for their jobs and visas. The people involved gained substantial commercial benefit unlawfully by exploiting the employees.

“Noting the serious nature of the breaches of minimum entitlements and significant arrears owed to the five complainants, Labour Inspectors moved quickly and applied to the court for freezing orders to be placed on the employers’ assets. This was the first time the Inspectorate has applied for freezing orders”, says Lumsden.

The Labour Inspectorate also  shared this information (of exploitation of migrant workers) to community stakeholders such as the Allied Retail Group who operate Liquor Centre, and it is believed they also have initiated action against Samra Holdings.

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