A Dunedin couple who exploited workers at their bakery have been slapped with another financial penalty.
Anesly Joy Samuel, the former owner of Romeeco Bakery and Knox Cafe, was ordered to pay $392,038 after a Labour Inspectorate investigation and subsequent Employment Relations Authority (ERA) case showed a pattern of ill-treatment and underpayment of staff stretching back more than five years.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment told the Otago Daily Times this month that Samuel's four-bedroom Dunedin home had been sold, leaving only $40,000 outstanding.
Only days later, however, ERA chief Andrew Dallas released a decision determining that Samuel's wife Wadduwage Nirosha Dilrukshi Perera was also involved in the breaches of employment standards.
She was made jointly liable for her husband's debt and ordered to pay penalties of $38,000 for her role.
Perera asked to be spared financial punishment because of the "huge" costs imposed on her partner but Dallas was unmoved.
"I do not accept this submission, Mr Samuel and Ms Perera are separately responsible for their own conduct," he said in his decision.
The ERA's assessment of her involvement had not been considered alongside her husband's case in November last year because of another pertinent case before the Court of Appeal at the time.
The higher court found that "intent" or wilful blindness was enough for a person to be legally "involved".
Dallas listed the facts that suggested Perera had specific knowledge of what was taking place:
• Told the Labour Inspectorate she was the owner on its first visit to the bakery
• Answered questions about employees and knew terms and conditions of their employment
• Had a detailed understanding of business operations and did the daily cash-up
• Directed staff on a daily basis
• Lied to inspectors about employees' hours of work
• Intervened during a threatening phone call made to a worker
Inspectors first visited Romeeco Bakery in George St in November 2017 and discovered no timesheets for workers.
Days later, they found a man working outside rostered hours, and staff later disclosed they did more than 80 hours a week.
Once the investigation was in full swing, Samuel threatened those he suspected had complained to officials.
He told one worker he would arrange for someone to cut off the man's limbs and harm his family; a second was told to "prepare for his parents' funeral in Sri Lanka".
Perera's $38,000 is due to be paid by next month.