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27 May 2024

Extortion of immigrants exposed as Hamilton restaurant ordered to pay $99K in damages

12:16 pm on 27 May 2024

By Shannon Pitman, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Whangārei of NZ Herald

A man holding a ballpoint pen to fill a work visa application form to New Zealand.

Photo: 123RF

Three immigrant restaurant workers on less than $8 per hour and who were not paid for all the time they worked were told they had to give $30,000 to their employers to remain in the country or risk deportation.

When one of the Chilli India employees approached the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), an inquiry was initiated, uncovering instances of corruption, extortion and exploitation within a prominent Indian restaurant in Hamilton.

Now the staff have gone on to have a significant win with the Employment Relations Authority.

JDfoods was trading as the restaurant Chilli India in Dinsdale and was owned by husband and wife team, Jayant and Deepti Kaushal. The restaurant has now closed.

According to a decision released this week, the inspector's claim, supported by extensive documentary and audio evidence, alleged JDfoods coerced employees into making payments under the threat of losing their jobs and, consequently, their right to remain in New Zealand.

Along with extracting payments from their employees, the inspector filed evidence some employees were paid as low as $7.68 per hour, were routinely paid for fewer hours than they worked and were never paid what they were owed for working public holidays.

A hearing was held over 12 days before Employment Authority member Michael Loftus, who noted this was the first time in 19 years he had encountered such a situation.

The evidence presented included a scheme where Diksha Diksha was promised support for her residence application with Immigration New Zealand in exchange for a $30,000 premium.

The Kaushals devised methods to ensure payments could not be tracked, including money being paid to their parents in India and transferred to an associate, Amit Seth, to then transfer to the Kaushals.

The Kaushals submitted a defence of conspiracy against them and spent nine days cross-examining the inspector's witnesses, which ultimately did not work in their favour.

Loftus described the evidence given by the Kaushals as "bald assertions" and said witnesses were "doing nothing but lying".

Despite the inspector providing bank transfer evidence of Diksha making large sums of payments to Seth, the Kaushals continued their defence.

"When asked about the payment of $3000 Diksha Diksha made to him he [Seth] initially had no recollection despite the amount. Even when shown the bank statements he still 'couldn't remember', Loftus said in his decision.

Deepti Kaushal admitted fabricating evidence and documents and that she had coerced other witnesses, including their mothers, to lie, significantly damaging the defence.

"With respect to the case it was trying to support it was undoubtedly the most destructive I have ever heard in this role.

"After Mrs Kaushal's evidence and the admissions of falsifying evidence and creating false documents the defence was in tatters," Loftus said.

Loftus sided with the inspector and found JDfoods guilty of several employment law breaches, including the failure to pay minimum wages, holiday pay, and annual leave to their employees.

Loftus ordered JDfoods and the Kaushals to pay $99,697, including penalties to MBIE and arrears owed to three employees.

  • JDfoods to pay $18,496.38 for amounts owed for failure to pay minimum wage, public holidays and annual holiday pay.
  • JDfoods to pay $42,323.04 for premiums received from employees.
  • JDfoods to pay $7,387.71 in interest owed on the above amounts.
  • JDfoods to pay $21,000 to the inspector for penalties and breaches.
  • Jayant and Deepti Kaushal to pay a combined $10,500 to the inspector for penalties and breaches.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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