Hospitality workers in New Zealand are being forced to pay for their employment, work without pay and have their overseas families threatened, a survey has found.

A Restaurant Association "worker exploitation investigation" survey found six in 10 operators in New Zealand's hospitality industry agreed there was worker exploitation in the industry.

More than 20 per cent thought exploitation was "rife" but about 40 per cent felt it was a minor problem.

The online survey was conducted last week among the association's 22,000 members nationwide.


Edward Viterbo, association member and owner of Grasshopper Thai Restaurant at Auckland's Stamford Plaza Hotel, said he has heard some horror stories about exploitation in the industry.

"I've heard stories of workers being threatened by employers that they would report them to immigration and they can be kicked out of the country if they didn't do as they are told," Viterbo said.

"It is very sad when you hear things like this."

Most common however was workers being made to pay for their jobs so they could remain in New Zealand, he said.

Viterbo said he has always tried to do the right thing, but the business gets "stereotyped" because it was an Asian restaurant.

"We are doing our best to prove to our customers that we are doing everything above board," he added.

Edward Viterbo owner of Grasshopper Thai Restaurant on Albert St. Photo / Dean Purcell
Edward Viterbo owner of Grasshopper Thai Restaurant on Albert St. Photo / Dean Purcell

Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said most of the respondents made references to stories they heard from new employees during interviews when recruiting.

"It certainly looks like industry sentiments are that there are some issues [of worker exploitation] in the industry," Bidois said.


"But the feelings are that the majority of the industry are excellent employers and put a lot of effort into the support of their teams."

Three in four who participated in the survey said they would be interested in an accreditation programme being proposed by the association to highlight employers with good business practices.

The accreditation programme and the survey are part of the association's direct response to combat worker exploitation within the industry.

"Employers who are mistreating migrant workers bring the reputation of the industry down as a whole and we want to assist in removing exploitation from our industry however we can," Bidois said.

"Most are in support of the accreditation programme which is great news."

One restaurant owner had a chef who was provided accommodation but not paid at all by his previous employer.

"He was afraid to leave as his visa was tied up to the employer," the respondent said.


The matter had been reported to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Another respondent said he was horrified to learn from his staff about others who had to pay for their employment.

Some were made to work for free in exchange for a promise of residency, the respondent said.

"My ex-head chef took over $150,000 from other chefs he employed, he was paid into his account in India" the operator said.

"His family also threatened the family of the (other) chefs in India."

One participant from Wellington said many workers on working holiday visas had also received "terrible treatment" from employers.


"Employers who refuse to pay them, don't pay stat holiday and having to be on call without any compensation."

Nearly a third of respondents, or 32.4 per cent, said they were aware of employers who have underpaid their workers deliberately.

Last month an Indian restaurant chain was fined more than $40,000 for underpaying its workers by tens of thousands of dollars for years.

In February an Auckland woman was sent to prison and her husband sentenced to home detention after keeping migrant workers from the Philippines in what the judge called close to modern-day slavery.