Employer sentenced to home detention for exploiting staff

6:45 pm on 17 September 2018

A food retailer who exploited migrant workers has been sentenced to nine months home detention.

Nelson District Court

Nelson District Court Photo: RNZ

Davinder Singh, 30, was convicted in the Nelson District Court on 25 charges of exploiting 12 Indian workers he employed.

He was also sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay $150,000 in victim reparation.

His company, Kishan Singh & Son's Ltd, owned Pizza Hut franchises in Gore, Richmond, Blenheim and Nelson, which were on-sold in 2016.

Singh also operated two food stores trading as Ekam Food Marts in Nelson and Blenheim. He encouraged employees on student visas to work more than their visas allowed, then underpaid them.

Others he employed on work visas were only ever paid for 40 hours, despite some working up to 60 hours a week.

One employee was forced to work seven days a week without overtime, while another living in Singh's home was made to cook and clean for him and his family.

Another employee was owed almost $65,000 in outstanding pay.

Singh has lived in New Zealand for around 13 years. Immigration New Zealand said he was convicted earlier this month on 25 charges of exploitation.

He was also convicted of 13 charges of aiding and abetting employees to breach conditions of their temporary visas, a charge of providing false or misleading information to an immigration officer and seven charges of obtaining by deception.

Judge Tony Zohrab said in sentencing that Singh had a 'revisionist approach' to his role as an employer.

"You seem to have rewritten history, and persuaded yourself that you are the victim, and your parents are victims, you were an accidental offender. I do not accept that for one minute.

"I appreciate a sentence of home detention, coupled with community work, will be difficult for you - but it might give you some insight as to what unpaid labour is actually like."

Peter Devoy of Immigration New Zealand said the conviction was the result of extensive investigative work.

"The systematic and protracted pattern of migrant exploitation by this defendant is abhorrent," he said.

He said the sentence should send a strong signal that the department will take action against employers who exploit migrants.

"We recognise that migrants are a particularly vulnerable section of the workforce because they are less likely to be aware of their rights and entitlements than New Zealand workers.

"They can also be reluctant to come forward, particularly where they are in breach of their visa conditions," Mr Devoy said.

He said migrant workers had the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand.

"We encourage anyone being forced to work in New Zealand illegally for less than the minimum wage and/or excessive hours to contact Immigration New Zealand or the Labour Inspectorate.

"People can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously."