The owners of two Hamilton liquor stores have been ordered to pay a record fine for underpaying and overworking vulnerable employees.
Husband and wife Paramjeet Singh Parihar and Kuldip Kaur Parihar, who owned two Super Liquor stores in Hamilton, were found guilty of paying between $8 and $11 - less than the minimum wage over a seven-year period.
Some of the employees of the Hillcrest and Flagstaff stores worked more than 60 to 70 hours per week – including on public holidays and were not provided with any sick leave, holiday pay or public holiday entitlements.
The Employment Court ordered they pay a record $200,000 in penalties for serious employment law breaches - $80,000 of which will be paid as compensation to the workers for the mental and emotional hardships they endured at the hands of their employers.
The couple have also already repaid $250,470 to six former employees for minimum wage and holiday pay arrears. One employee was compensated $106,076 for seven years of underpayments.
The court saw their failure in keeping accurate employment records, which as an attempt to cover up their wrongdoings.
The workers were all migrant workers from India on temporary work Visas.
The Judge said the treatments of the workers was "inexplicable and heinous".
Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Callum McMillan said this sent a clear message to employers who were taking advantage of vulnerable workers that it won't be tolerated.
The Labour Inspectorate has been working with Super Liquor Holdings to improve employment practises from the top down and to make sure franchisers routinely monitored compliance with employment laws within their franchise group to prevent worker exploitation.
"It's disappointing that exploitation such as this has occurred in a well-known franchise like Super Liquor. There is a growing demand, in New Zealand and worldwide, for corporations to be ethical and accountable in their practices, which extends beyond direct legal obligations. This means their profits cannot be at the expense of frontline staff in their franchises or in their supply chains," McMillan said.
The Parihars have sold the two liquor stores and have no plans to become employers again. Their failure to comply with the court orders could lead to imprisonment.