18 Apr 2023

Trustees of Dunedin's Jesus Aroma Church ordered to pay exploited migrant workers

5:40 pm on 18 April 2023
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Photo: 123RF

Trustees of a Dunedin church have been ordered to pay $164,000 to two vulnerable migrant workers they exploited.

Trustees of the Jesus Aroma Church - Victoria Jeon, Joseph Jeon and Misun Leem - used donations from Korean churches to employ migrant Song Choi. He was employed as a pastor, but ended up working at the Dunedin Taekwondo Academy, which was operated by trustees as a commercial entity.

Song Choi was expected to clean the facility, help the students warm up and act as an assistant to the other exploited worker, qualified taekwondo instructor Andrew Jeon.

The two workers also paid the trustees a premium, or payment, for finding them jobs.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ordered the trustees to pay Song Choi $71,848 as arrears for wages, holiday pay and the premium of $64,172 he had paid to the trustees.

The trustees were told to repay Andrew Jeon $49,634 for the premium he had paid earlier, including the outstanding interest, and the Labour Inspectorate has been asked to recalculate his wages and holiday pay arrears.

The ERA also ordered the trustees to pay $42,750 as penalty for the breaches in minimum employment standards.

Labour Inspectorate head of compliance and investigations Stu Lumsden said this was an elaborate scheme by the trustees, who targeted vulnerable migrant workers.

"The situation was unfortunate for these migrant workers whose visas were tied to the employer, who chose to breach New Zealand employment obligations.

"Moreover, these workers lacked access to support services, and they had no knowledge of what they were signing up for as the agreements were in English, which was not their primary language.

"The trustees failed to provide wages and time record, which is in blatant violation of their employer's responsibilities and is an attempt by the trustees to avoid paying the correct dues."

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