An Otago Daily Times investigation has uncovered
exploited migrant workers in Dunedin's hospitality and beauty
Migrants are underpaid, often without holiday or sick pay and
too afraid to complain to authorities.
Employment law specialist Jen Wilson suspects dozens are
In one case last year, a migrant hospitality worker was being
paid $4.37 an hour - far below the minimum wage of $13.75 an
hour at the time, Ms Wilson, a senior solicitor at Jenny Beck
The woman received $612 for 70 hours' work, half of which had
to be returned to the employer in cash. The arrangement made
it appear the employer legitimately employed the worker for
above minimum wage on a 40-hour-a-week salary.
The worker was also told her working visa would only be
renewed by the employer if she paid tens of thousands of
dollars, Ms Wilson said. The worker was ultimately dismissed
under the 90-day trial rule.
Other migrants in similar situations also had approached Ms
''They didn't pursue it because they were too frightened,''
A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)
spokeswoman said the Labour Inspectorate issued two
''enforceable undertakings'' to Dunedin employers during the
past 12 months, both in the hospitality industry.
One was for a lack of written employment agreements and the
other was for failing to keep time, wage, holiday and leave
The employers complied with the enforceable undertakings, she
Chef Chris Dick said he discovered the issue while working in
a consultancy role for another Dunedin businessman.
During his time working for the man, Mr Dick was told staff
were being underpaid. One Chinese worker stood out in his
''I will never forget it. He [the business owner] said he
only pays her $6 an hour and she works seven days a week,''
Mr Dick said.
''She was the hardest worker I have ever seen, but totally
exploited. It was criminal, it really was.''
The business owner, when approached by the ODT, denied
''My staff are paid everything - not underpaid - everything
[is] by the law,'' he said.
Staff were given free accommodation also, he said.
Mr Dick said the owner offered accommodation to some
employees and their families, but it was used to control
staff, as the owner threatened to evict their families from
his accommodation, or made threats about their ability to get
other jobs if they left, Mr Dick said.
He had visited the accommodation and felt the conditions were
''totally like a sweat shop''.
The MBIE spokeswoman confirmed the Labour Inspectorate had
investigated the man's businesses last year as a result of
''The investigation found that, in general, the businesses
were complying with minimum employment standards and where
any issues were identified they were rectified immediately,''
''No compliance action was required.''
Mr Dick said that finding was unsurprising, as the owner had
''it so sewn up'' and staff were afraid of losing their jobs
if they talked.
Another migrant business owner explained to the ODT
how businesses could hide their underpayment of staff.
He claimed some hours would be paid to staff through payroll
at minimum wage and all additional hours would be paid under
the table at below minimum wage and, in some cases, not at
Salaries also allowed business owners to work employees
longer without additional pay, he said.
Dunedin Multi-Ethnic Council migrant women and children
facilitator Afife Harris said she was aware of several
migrant women working for less than the minimum wage.
They were afraid of complaining or coming forward as they
needed the money their jobs provided, even if it was less
than they were entitled to.
''It's not about the job, the money is needed for living,''
''They are desperate to get any work, even if they pay them
$5 or $10 an hour.''
In some cases, employers would help extended family members
get jobs, only to then take advantage of them, Mrs Harris
Ms Wilson said the problem was often hidden and difficult to
quantify, but many migrants would be affected in some way.
The issue was further complicated by employers who would pay
for migrants' travel costs to come to New Zealand, or
provided accommodation, and then expected them to reimburse
the costs from their salary or wages, she said.
''It might be legal, but is it right? It doesn't sound
right,'' Ms Wilson said.
''There's a feeling from lots of New Zealand employers that
because people come from low-wage places, that even if you
pay them $4-$5 an hour, that's great for them.''