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No excuse for exploitation

Unethical employment practices have been slammed by Retail NZ after Wellington grocery store Sun 2 Moon Ltd was fined more than $53,000 in penalties and arrears by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) for breaching the law.

Sun 2 Moon Ltd was operated by Luv Kumar Khatter, and sold Indian products from premises on Willis St in Wellington’s CBD. Among other breaches of employment law, it required a migrant worker to pay more than $10,000 in premiums, extracting a $5,000 payment upfront, $3,240 in regular small cash payments, and $2,167 funding company expenses on the employees personal credit card.

The ERA described these premiums as “an abuse of the power imbalance between employers and employees,” saying the employer was effectively taking advantage of a migrant worker.

“The exploitation of migrant workers in New Zealand is unacceptable,” says Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Loua Ward. “No employer should require employees to pay premiums or pay wages back. Employees must be paid for all hours they work, and employers are required by law to keep proper time and wage records for all staff.”

Sun 2 Moon Ltd was also ordered to pay a total of $25,000 in penalty for breaching the Minimum Wage Act, Employment Relations Act, Wages Protection Act and Holidays Act by the ERA, in addition to the $28,781.23 in reimbursements and arrears.

The case was brought before the ERA by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Labour Inspectorate after the worker involved complained. The inspectorate is now targeting employers which exploit vulnerable migrant workers.

“The level of non-compliance identified during this investigation was very disappointing given the significant breaches of minimum employment standards,” says Ward.

“This ruling sends a clear message to employers that failure to comply with minimum employment labour standards will not be tolerated,” says Mrs Ward.

Retail NZ is also disappointed with Sun 2 Moon’s failure to comply with the law. Most retailers in New Zealand work hard to do the right thing by their employees, general manager for public affairs Greg Harford says, and all employers need to take all practical steps to ensure they comply with the law.

Those who are unsure of their minimum legal requirements should seek professional advice, says Harford: “Retail NZ offers a specialised employment helpline for retailers, so there’s really no excuse for people trying to exploit others.”

“A cornerstone of the New Zealand economy is that employees are treated fairly and reasonably by their employers.  This means paying at least the minimum wage, offering at least the minimum holiday and sick leave entitlements, and generally being treated fairly and reasonably.  It is just not acceptable for any employer to make people pay to get and keep their jobs, withhold wages without consent and not pay holiday pay.

“The good news is that most retailers know to do the right thing, and do treat their employees fairly.  Those who don’t can expect that the authorities will take action, so it’s really important to get it right”.

If you or somebody you know is being exploited, you can call the MBIE on 0800 20 90 20. Your concerns will be handled in a safe environment.

If you’d like employment advice from Retail NZ, call their hotline on 0800 472 472.

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