Hotel ordered to pay $80,000 in outstanding wages

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

An Auckland hotel has been ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay nearly $80,000 in outstanding wages to two employees.

Filipino couple Abraham and Nancy Agustin were employed at Auckland Harbour Oaks, and alleged the hotel had underpaid them and withheld part of their salaries.

The employers maintained their payment regime is correct but failed to provide any wage and time records to the authority, as required by law.

"Mr and Mrs Agustin were, despite their limited English, compelling witnesses and they provided, with the assistance of First Union, an extensive bundle of documentation identifying what they had been paid and what they ought to have been paid," said authority member James Crichton.

"I am satisfied on the evidence I heard that the evidence of Mr and Ms Agustin is to be preferred over the evidence of Auckland Harbour Oaks, given no actual wage and time records have been produced to justify Auckland Harbour Oaks' conclusion."

Mr Crichton said Auckland Harbour Oaks owed Mr Agustin $38,832.46 and the sum of $39,970.60 to Mrs Agustin.

"Both figures being an amalgam of all of the outstanding wages due and owing to each of the employees," said Mr Crichton in his determination.

The couple were already full time employees at the hotel property prior to Auckland Harbour Oaks becoming their employer in October 2011.

They claimed that at the beginning of the employment, they each worked for three weeks but were only paid for two.

Mrs Agustin, a housekeeper, said when she asked the then manager, she was told that the money was retained as a deposit.

The authority said such an arrangement, if found proved, was a breach of the Wages Protection Act 1983.

In May 2012, Mr Agustin and Auckland Harbour Oaks entered into a new individual employment agreement, which added handyman activities to his responsibilities and increased his hourly rate to $17.50 from $14 an hour.

"Mr Agustin says that notwithstanding the hourly rate prescribed in the agreement ... he never received the increase," said Mr Crichton.

This was a breach of the operative employment agreement if the claim was proved, he said.

Mr Agustin was employed under his third employment agreement in July of that year, with his hourly rate reverted back to $14 per hour.

Again his first week's pay was retained by the employer and Auckland Harbour Oaks apparently said at the time this was a deposit.

Mr Agustin also alleged he was required to work on public holidays and did not receive either penal payments or the alternative holiday.

Mr Crichton said Auckland Harbour Oaks was given more than one opportunity to produce wage and time records, but only provided "an analysis of, and rebuttal of," Mr and Mrs Agustin's claims."

"In the absence of those records, on a claim such as this brought before the authority, I am entitled to rely on the evidence furnished by the employee," said Mr Crichton.

Dennis Maga, First Union national co-ordinator, said the decision sends a clear message to all employers who exploit migrant labour.

"Rouge employers should be aware that the New Zealand community would like to see them prosecuted and punished under the law," Mr Maga said.

- APNZ

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