The sentencing of two Auckland restaurateurs in a case described as "not far removed from modern-day slavery" has been upheld in the Court of Appeal.

Virgil and Luisito Balajadia, who both hold dual Filipino/New Zealand citizenship, were found guilty of multiple offences under the Immigration Act following a five-day trial earlier this year.

Most of the victims, recruited in the Philippines, were made to work 12 hours a day, six days a week doing everything from cooking, cleaning the restaurant, washing dishes and assisting in the couple's home.

The District Court described the victims as "working and living in conditions not far removed from a modern-day form of slavery".


Virgil, also known as Gie, had been sentenced to 26 months' jail and ordered to pay $7200, while Luisito has been given eight months' home detention.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the couple's appeals against their sentences.

It found the couple had an overarching scheme of bringing workers into the country, exercising control over them and subjecting them to inhumane and substandard working and living conditions.

Virgil Balajadia. Photo / File
Virgil Balajadia. Photo / File

Victim impact statements described Virgil as "extremely abusive and controlling".

She was convicted of two charges of exploitation of a temporary worker and five charges of providing false or misleading information to Immigration NZ in employment agreements.

The Court said her jail term could easily have been as high as 40 months.

Luisito was convicted of two charges of exploitation of a temporary worker and two charges of providing false or misleading information to INZ.

An aggravating factor of their offending, the Court of Appeal found, was "a very high degree of premeditation".

"This was deliberate and repetitive offending over a sustained period; and this conduct was undertaken for the appellant's commercial advantage."

One employee, who worked for the pair from April 2014 to 2015, said he consistently worked at least 10 hours per day, six days a week, without any breaks.

He was paid for at most 40 hours, but had to pay $150 per week to live in a makeshift room in the couple's garage.

According to INZ, the employee's movements were also controlled by the pair, who told him that he would be reported to the police if he did not perform his job well.

Peter Devoy, INZ's assistant general manager, said the Court of Appeal decision sent a strong signal that migrant exploitation would not be tolerated here.

"It is good to see that the Court of Appeal has viewed this offending as a serious case of deception and exploitation," Devoy said.

"We encourage anyone being forced to work in NZ illegally for less than the minimum wage or excessive hours to contact INZ or the Labour Inspectorate."