Migrant workers are being exploited because Asian business owners are bringing attitudes from their home countries and believing they can get away with it, a union leader says.

First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said there has been an increase in the number of migrant workers turning to the union for help.

"There seems to be a pattern of behaviour emerging from businesses owned by immigrants, and that is that they exploit their own people," Maga said.

"It is an embarrassment ... they think they can get away with it, but such practices will not last."


Earlier this month a Filipino couple and their Auckland-based Filipino restaurant business, 3 Kings, were sentenced on charges of exploitation and providing false or misleading information relating to five Filipino employees they sponsored to come to New Zealand.

The Judge in the case said the working and living conditions of the victims were not far removed from a modern-day form of slavery.

"Back in their countries, these employers may get away with actions like holding on to their employees' passports and not giving them a day off," Maga said.

"Many come with the attitude that they can do the same here."

Maga said these employers were providing false and misleading information to Immigration New Zealand to support visa applications, while at the same time making verbal and private arrangements with the migrant workers.

Just before Christmas, the Union led a migrant worker protest outside Azon Filipino restaurant in Parnell, claiming the owner, who also ran two other restaurants, had wrongly dismissed migrant staff and failed to pay a Filipino worker according to his employment agreement terms.

"We filed a case with the Employment Relations Authority but unfortunately the case will not be heard because the owner put the company into liquidation, after both parties failed to reach a settlement during the course of mediation," Maga said.

The Labour Inspectorate says it will be visiting more cafes and restaurants this year, and will not hesitate to name and shame businesses in breach of their obligations "in the interest of consumer choice".

Last month, a popular Wellington cafe, Espressoholic on Cuba St was fined $2000 and stood down from issuing visas to recruit migrant labour for six months after they were found in breach of their obligations.

The Inspectorate found the business failed to keep compliant records, or correctly pay holiday pay and other entitlements.

The Government will be initiating an inquiry into migrant exploitation, Immigration and Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told Parliament last week.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is preparing the policy work on how to proceed with the inquiry.

Meanwhile, the ministry was also calling for dairy farmers to "get it sorted" with compliant records, agreements and ensuring all employees received at least the minimum wage for every hour worked.

"Our most recent investigation found 28 per cent of farms visited failing to meet their record keeping obligations, resulting in $11,000 in fines — and we want to see farmers do better this year," said Inspectorate regional manager Natalie Gardiner.

Those concerned about their employment situation or the situation of someone they know can call 0800 209020 to report their concerns.