Migrant chef paid boss $13k to keep job

By Hana Garrett-Walker

A Chinese migrant chef was asked by his employer to pay $13000 "to help with the business". Photo / Thinkstock
A Chinese migrant chef was asked by his employer to pay $13000 "to help with the business". Photo / Thinkstock

A Chinese employer has to pay more than $46,000 after charging a migrant worker to work at a restaurant, and paying him only five times during his eight months of employment.

It's the latest in a string of Employment Relations Authority (ERA) findings which have found in favour of migrant workers who are being paid less than the minimum wage, and are paying fees to secure a job.

Employment advocate May Moncur predicted the practice would continue because migrant workers were scared to speak out against their employers.

Harbit International, which owned Auckland Chinese restaurant China Grill Cafe and Restaurant, was slammed with $14,000 in fines for breaching various employment laws.

It was also ordered to pay Chinese migrant Hong Zhou $32,328 in unpaid wages, holiday pay, lost remuneration, distress compensation and the illegal employment premium it received from him.

In June last year Zhou took up a chef job he saw advertised on a Chinese website, which meant he was issued with a work visa through Immigration New Zealand.

But when he was offered the job Ying Hui Zheng, who was managing the director, asked Zhou to give him $8000 "to help with the business".

The sole director, Ben Wong, then asked for $5000 "to help with the business as it was facing hard trading conditions".

Zhou felt Wong had indicated he could lose his job and his work visa could be affected if he did not hand over the money, so he handed over both large sums.

He was then not paid for the first three months of his employment, and in the following months he was not paid on a regular basis.

In the 33 weeks he worked for Harbit he received wage payments on October 4, 14, 21 and 18 November last year, and 25 January this year.

On February 6 Zhou was told to take some time off and not return to work until further notice. When he went back to the premises, after not hearing anything, he found the business had closed down.

Moncur, as Zhou's advocate, said this was not the first case of its kind.

Last month Moncur won a case at the ERA for another migrant worker from China, who was made to pay her own wages and taxes by an employer who promised to support her application for permanent residency.

At least three more cases with allegations of employers exploiting migrant employees on temporary visas are still before the authority.

"The breaches are quite severe, I've found there is absolutely a problem," she said.

Migrants were struggling to exercise their rights, and "more importantly" were scared to exercise their rights.

"Sometimes they are threatened by their employer ... in all sort of ways. The main way is their employer would use their visa status to threaten them."

Moncur said she was disappointed with the outcome of this ERA ruling, because while she took action against Harbit, Wong and Zheng, ERA member Rachel Larmer struck out the two individuals from the proceedings because they had never personally employed him, Harbit had.

"That means this decision, although $46,000, [means] the two directors could simply wind up the company and get away with everything."

She said she would look into appealing the decision.

David Milne, acting northern labour inspector manager of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the Ministry was aware of this case and was examining the behaviour of Harbit in light of the judgement.

The Ministry was aware that such cases were occurring, and Milne said it had a programme underway in the hospitality sector, particularly focusing on Chinese employers.

"The Ministry has placed information in a wide range of Chinese media throughout the North Island, and is working with Chinese business organisations to ensure employers are aware of their responsibilities,'' he said.

It had also been working with Immigration New Zealand compliance officers and visiting businesses to determine whether there are any non-compliance issues.

Action would be taken when non-compliance was discovered, ranging from substantial fines to "significant" jail terms, said Milne.

- APNZ

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