Golden Springs Holiday Park is a rundown motor camp in Reporoa, a small town between Rotorua and Taupō. There are thermal springs here but the main customers for Golden Springs are itinerant workers for farms in the district.

But this week, it was the migrant staff working at Golden Springs Holiday Park that were revealed to have been shockingly exploited.

Sue (not her real name) arrived in New Zealand from China in 2018 with little understanding of employment regulations.

"I'm a single mum so I just want to keep safe," she said. "For my daughter and myself. I don't want to bring trouble."

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Sue worked at Golden Springs Holiday Park for Shenshen Guan. Guan and her company have been fined a record $680,350 by the Employment Court, and banned from employing anyone for 18 months.

The court heard Guan had demanded a $45,000 bond from migrant workers, had employed staff who weren't legally entitled to work in New Zealand, and hadn't paid them.

Sue was told she would be motel manager, but her duties were essentially manual labour. But she didn't question her boss because she felt scared of her.

"Actually I'm quite afraid of her," Sue said. "She's a very smart and clever lady. But her character was sometimes quite aggressive, so I was quite afraid of her."

Sue said her working conditions were unbearable, and she felt like she was in a prison. Worse, they weren't paid for the work they were doing.

"I'm quite a responsible person for my job. Shenshen tells me I'm a foreigner. Work visas are really hard to get so I need to work hard to keep this job.

"Shenshen would tell me 'If you can't even do this simple job, how can you be a manager?'"

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says there's no excuse for not following New Zealand law, and it's bosses' responsibility to ensure their workers are working within their rights.

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"Migrants who work in New Zealand need to apply for a work visa, however it's an employer's responsibility to ensure they have the rights to work," MBIE regional manager Natalie Gardiner said.

"The reason Miss Guan gave for not paying her workers was due to them not having a correct visa. The obligation falls on her."

Shenshen Guan has come out fighting against the ruling, saying the workers lied, they were well looked after, and that she has no intention of paying the fine. She did not reply to requests for comment or an interview with Local Focus.

As for Sue, she's settled in Rotorua for the time being with her daughter, and hopes more migrants facing exploitation speak out.

"I have a daughter. I had a bad experience, I stand out to make Shenshen stop cheating others. If I can help more people, I will have no regret. Our story exposed [the situation with Guan, so] all the people knew it, so she can't cheat anyone," Sue said.

"People tell me, they tell me they're in a tough situation, pitiful situation. I want them to speak out.

"If we just keep silent - in some sense you will cultivate this kind of behaviour," Sue said.


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