15 April 2024

Restaurant owners to pay $420,000 for exploiting 7 Indian migrant workers

The former owners of two North Island restaurants who exploited migrant workers and breached numerous minimum employment standards have been ordered by Employment Court to pay more than $420,000, including $330,000 in penalties, compensation and arrears.

Ajay Sharma and Kavita Sharma, who previously owned Prisha’s Royal Cambridge Indian Restaurant in Cambridge and Roquette Restaurant and Bar in Whakatane exploited seven migrant workers of Indian descent, between December 2017 and December 2018.

Employment Court Judge J C Holden also ordered Ajay Sharma and Kavita Sharma to pay costs of $78,429, taking the total they must pay to more than $420,000. She said the Sharmas showed little remorse for the compliance breaches and produced falsified documents to justify some of their behaviour.

The Labour Inspectorate was also successful in obtaining a Freezing Order against the defendants, allowing the Labour Inspectorate to secure funds from the defendants to pay the arrears and compensation costs in full to the employees. 

Head of Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate, Simon Humphries, believed it was appropriate that the owners of the two restaurants had been made to pay significant compensation to the workers they had exploited, as well as pay the wage arrears they owed.

“At the heart of this offending are vulnerable workers who have simply been exploited and denied basic minimum employment standards. As a result, they suffered considerable distress,” said Humphries.

In her determination Judge Holden said the employees all gave credible evidence of the stress they felt working for the defendants. “Some employees spoke of feeling caged or like a slave,” she said.

“Those employees were isolated from family; several were young and most were visa-dependant. The inherent inequality of power in the employment relationship helped make the breaches possible,” Judge Holden said.

Although the Sharmas and their company Prisha’s Hospitality Ltd, no longer operate either restaurant, the couple were ordered to pay compensation, arrears and pecuniary penalty to the exploited workers.

Minimum employment standards breaches uncovered during the investigation of the two restaurants included, not paying the correct minimum & correct wage;not paying for work done; not paying for holiday, public holiday, sick and bereavement leave; deducting money without the employee’s consent, and making two of the employees pay thousands of dollars in premiums.

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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