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Spice Room restaurant, Wanaka (South Island)
Restaurant where the chef was employed (Photo: Spice Room website)

An Indian chef, formerly working at Wanaka’s Spice Room restaurant, will receive over $86,000 as unpaid wages, compensation, etc after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) accepted his plea of ‘unjustifiably’ dismissal while on annual leave.

Ramesh Nath, who now lives in Canada, worked at this South Island restaurant on a employer supported work visa between September 2016 and April 2018.

In an employment relations grievance filed against his employer Nath contended he was unjustifiably dismissed and paid for only 30 hours while he actually worked between 50 and 60 hours per week. He also sought compensation for lost wages due to dismissal. Spice Room denied these claims.

In its determination on 2 July (a copy of which is available with NewsViews), ERA said “Spice Room cannot justify Mr Nath’s dismissal and he was, therefore, unjustifiably dismissed.”

Therefore, ERA ordered Spice Room to pay him $54,238.06 as unpaid wages; $22,000 as compensation for hurt, humiliation and injury to feelings, and $10,424.96 as reimbursement for lost wages. The total gross payout to Nath comes to $86,663.02.

According to ERA, on 14 March 2018, Nath applied for annual leave from 9 April 2018 to 11 July 2018. His leave was approved by Abhishek Saklani, who is one of the two directors of Vishnupriya Limited, trading as Spice Room.

While Nath was away on leave, Spice Room employed another chef to replace him rather than await his return. Despite Saklani approving Nath’s leave, Spice Room claimed he was not coming back when contacted by Immigration NZ (INZ) on phone on or about 9 July 2018.

Nath claimed Saklani told INZ “we don’t guarantee the job and I don’t think he will be back.”

Saklani, however, denied this and said they had arrived at this conclusion on the basis that the employee had not contacted them during his period of leave. Nath said he was under no obligation to do so.

Nath was left stranded at Hong Kong airport for over 36 hours after being refused to board a plane for Auckland as his work permit was cancelled. He had to return to India 

Spice Room told ERA that it had no idea at the time of speaking to INZ that Nath was at Hong Kong Airport awaiting to board a plane to Auckland.

ERA found that the statements made on Spice Room’s behalf “plainly and directly contributed to Nath being denied boarding to New Zealand and having his work permit cancelled.”

With regard to claim for more hours of work, Spice Room accepted it had not kept wage and time records for Nath.

In the absence of records to the contrary, ERA accepted Nath worked between 50 and 60 hours a week and ordered he be paid $54,238.06 in unpaid wages, in addition to other payouts.