A North Shore food court has been ordered to pay five migrant workers almost $127,000 in arrears after they were paid less than minimum wage for long shifts without sick leave.

The Food City Limited establishment, in Northcote, also has to pay a $37,500 penalty imposed by the Employment Relations Authority in a ruling last week.

The decision comes after an investigation was launched by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate.

The breaches found included a failure to pay minimum wage and holiday pay to the group of Chinese cleaners, who were all permanent New Zealand residents.

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Labour inspectorate regional manager David Milne said the penalties and arrears awarded against the employer should send a strong message to others that this sort of exploitation of workers would not be tolerate.

"It's really disappointing to see this level of non-compliance where the employer has just completely failed to meet the clear expectations set out in New Zealand's employment law,'' Milne said.

"Pleading ignorance is no excuse - providing employees with at least the minimum wage, holiday pay, and written employment agreements are basic obligations which we expect every employer in New Zealand to meet.

"Taking advantage of employees is never acceptable, particularly vulnerable workers such as the migrants in this case, who were older, did not speak English, and were unaware of their rights and entitlements in New Zealand."

The breaches were discovered after the five employees approached a Labour Inspector two years ago.

An investigation found the group had all been working long shifts - from 10am to 10pm - six days a week. They were only paid the minimum wage for 40 hours, however, and were not granted sick leave.