19 Jan 2024

Migrant worker felt 'like a prisoner' working long hours for free at hospitality job

4:27 pm on 19 January 2024
no caption

File photo. Photo: 123rf.com

A young migrant who worked long hours for free at a Central Otago hospitality business says she felt "like a prisoner" during her nine months in the job.

The company which owns the Criterion Club in Alexandra - along with one of its managers - have been ordered to pay the woman $34,270 in wages, arrears, interest and penalties.

The worker (who did not want to be named) said worked up to 60 hours a week as assistant manager at the business between June 2019 and February 2020, but was only paid for 30 hours a week.

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, she said.

"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."

She resigned, and approached the Labour Inspectorate for help after her former employers "kept making excuses" for not giving her the holiday pay owed.

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.

Head of compliance and enforcement Simon Humphries said he hoped employers "tempted to take unfair advantage of their employees" would take note that worker exploitation will not be tolerated.

"It's disheartening to see that this employee felt helpless and suffered the deliberate and systemic offending that her employer caused. As happened in this case, exploitative employers can expect to be heavily penalised for their wrongdoing.

"Fortunately, the complainant in this case did the right thing by reporting the abuse and our team was able to help."

The Employment Relations Authority awarded the woman $14,770 in arrears.

It also ordered penalties of $24,000 against the company 4S Hospitality Limited and $12,000 against Kuljinder Singh Sidhu who helped run the business and had hired the woman.

The ERA found that even though Singh 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.