Assets frozen for work law breaches

By Lane Nichols

Workers at three Auckland liquor and convenience stores were underpaid - a freezing order has now been imposed to stop the owner taking money out of NZ. Photo / Thinkstock
Workers at three Auckland liquor and convenience stores were underpaid - a freezing order has now been imposed to stop the owner taking money out of NZ. Photo / Thinkstock

Labour inspectors have served freezing orders on three companies operating Auckland convenience and liquor stores which owe more than $200,000 for employment law breaches.

The freezing orders were granted by the Employment Court on Wednesday.

It is the first time the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate has used section 190 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 in attempt to secure outstanding wage and holiday pay and penalties.

In August the Employment Relations Authority issued a determination against the companies, operating as Civic Convenience, Symonds Liquor and Sky Liquor, after receiving a complaint from 11 migrant workers. The companies share the same sole director, Ala'a Bader.

The Authority stated that the breaches were serious and ordered the companies to pay a total of $211,574.33. This includes outstanding minimum wage and holiday payments and penalties for breaches of the Minimum Wage Act 1983, Holidays Act 2003 and the Employment Relations Act 2000.

The action followed complaints last year by 11 employees who were in New Zealand on student visas from India and who worked at Civic Convenience, Symonds Liquor and Sky Liquor, he said.

Following an investigation, MBIE's labour inspectorate found the men were not receiving their minimum wage or holiday pay entitlements, were not provided with employment agreements, and accurate time and wage records were not kept, Milne said.

The Employment Relations Authority determined $60,000 was to be paid as penalty for breaching the Minimum Wage Act 1983 and Holidays Act 2003; $55,000 was to be paid for breaches of the Employment Relations Act 2000 by not providing employment agreements.

Labour Inspectorate northern regional manager David Milne said the companies have acknowledged some holiday pay liabilities and made a payment of just over $2000 to the Authority, with the remaining funds yet to be paid.

"It has come to the Labour Inspectorate's notice that Symonds Liquor has recently been sold for an amount exceeding what is owed,'' Milne said.

"The Labour Inspectorate applied to the Employment Court for the freezing orders, which were granted. The order has now been served and has frozen the companies' assets. This includes the proceeds from the sale of Symonds Liquor.''

Milne said the order prevented the companies from removing these assets from New Zealand.

"The Labour Inspectorate will not hesitate to prosecute breaches of minimum employment, reclaim money owed to workers and ensure that penalties are paid. If the Inspectorate needs to go as far as freezing employers' assets to ensure that happens then we will have no hesitation in doing so.''

The freezing order will expire on Monday, November 4. On this date the Employment Court will determine if the orders are to be continued.

"The exploitation of workers is not welcome and breaches New Zealand law,'' Milne said.

"Anyone with concerns about their employment should phone the MBIE call centre on 0800 20 90 20 where concerns will be handled in a safe environment.''

- APNZ

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