Matthew Theunissen is a business reporter

Pay $25k or work for free, man allegedly told

Corporate Energy is now in liquidation and the service station is being run by an unrelated company. Photo / 123RF
Corporate Energy is now in liquidation and the service station is being run by an unrelated company. Photo / 123RF

A service station owner who allegedly told an employee to either pay $25,000 or work for free as been ordered to pay over $40,000 by the Employment Relations Authority.

ERA member Vicki Campbell criticised the "contemptible conduct" of Corporate Energy, which traded as Caltex Glenbrook near Waiuku. Corporate Energy is now in liquidation and the service station is being run by an unrelated company.

According to the ERA's decision, Surender Singh had been working for another company, European Auto, when he applied for a job with Corporate Energy, despite his work visa being provisional on him working for European Auto.

He applied to Immigration New Zealand for a variation of these conditions and was advised that it would be issued shortly. As a result, he resigned from European Auto and started working for Corporate Energy in April 2012, the decision said.

He continued to work there until that September, when he was told by Immigration New Zealand that his application had been declined, and that he should not continue working until a new application had been processed.

He had not been paid any money for his work at the service station.

When he told company director Deepak Khurana of his predicament, he was given two options carry on working for free, or pay Corporate Energy $25,000 for its job offer, the ERA decision said.

"Mr Singh became upset at Mr Khurana's attempts to exploit him and did not return to work for the next two days," the ERA decision said. "Mr Khurana then contacted Mr Singh by telephone and told him that if he did not return to work the job offer would be withdrawn and he [Mr Khurana] would notify Immigration New Zealand."

Singh told the ERA he felt he had no choice and so returned to work the next day. He continued to work for Corporate Energy without pay until October 2012 when he raised concerns with Khurana about his ability to pay for rent, food, water and power.

"Mr Khurana told Mr Singh that he and his wife should send their children back to India and that he and his wife could live in free accommodation above the petrol station," the decision said.

Singh refused but continued to work under these circumstances until Immigration New Zealand visited the premises and issued Singh with a deportation notice due to him breaching his visa.

Campbell said she had no hesitation in finding in Singh's favour.

"The disadvantage arose when Corporate Energy failed to pay him for all hours worked at the agreed rate, and when Mr Khurana intimidated Mr Singh into continuing to work unlawfully," she said. "Corporate Energy was well aware of Mr Singh's immigration status when it offered employment to him."

Khurana and fellow director Jagat Mohan Singh Rawat knew that Singh needed a variation to his work visa to be approved before he could be employed by their company, she said.

"Pressure was brought to bear on Mr Singh to work illegally for Corporate Energy and hiding behind the lack of a valid work visa, Corporate Energy refused to pay him for his work," Campbell said.

She said Khurana's intimidating Singh into continuing to work illegally was "contemptible conduct".

"Mr Khurana was fully aware of Mr Singh's legal status and proceeded to require him to work anyway."

Khurana said in a statement that he was surprised and shocked by the ERA's decision.

He said he wasn't involved with the ERA proceedings and, with the company in liquidation, the liquidator chose not to attend due to the financial position of the company. Khurana said he hadn't been involved with Corporate Energy for two years.

"I believe I should have been invited by the ERA to give evidence if there were to be allegations made against me. Then I would have told the ERA that the allegations against me were entirely baseless and false and I could have provided the facts from my perspective. I maintain that Surender was treated fairly at all times while associated with Corporate Energy Limited," Khurana said.

"The path that Surender has pursued is his only means to obtain a permit that will allow him stay in NZ. He has made this very clear. The motivation for the claim that Surender has brought against Corporate Energy is to get his Immigration status to stay in New Zealand re-instated. It is the only avenue available to him."

Rawat and Singh could not be reached for comment.

- NZ Herald

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