No 'holidays or sick days or anything'

Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.
Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.
A Vietnamese migrant, who was working in underpaid and exploitative conditions, works on a client...
A Vietnamese migrant, who was working in underpaid and exploitative conditions, works on a client's nails.

The chance of a fresh start more than 9000km from home transformed into a bleak reality of 10-hour work days without a break, for less than the minimum wage for one Vietnamese migrant.

The 30-year-old Dunedin migrant told the Otago Daily Times she had worked upwards of 70 hours a week for a Dunedin businessman at less than minimum wage under the promise of being able to buy the business after five years.

''I worked overtime without holidays and with no bonus because I believe that in five years he would sell the business to me,'' the woman, who did not want to be identified, said.

She was paid $700 a week, which equated to between $8.33 and $10 an hour, depending on how much she worked.

She started working at the businessman's restaurant in October 2012, but helped him to open a beauty salon in December that year.

Her contract at the salon was for 40 hours a week or ''whenever required''.

''I worked seven days a week from nine in the morning until nine at night,'' she said.

She left the job in July last year when it became clear she would never own the business and because of how staff were treated.

One catalyst for her leaving was the firing of a friend, who was working at the salon without a work visa.

''There was a girl working here illegally in the ... salon and she was getting paid cash only,'' she said.

''He fired the girl. He fired her because she was a threat to him.''

She also worked in another beauty salon where she was employed as a part-time employee but worked 40 hours or more a week.

She was paid $270 a week into her bank account and additional smaller payments in cash.

When she left, she asked for holiday pay and was only given entitlements for the declared amounts deposited into her bank.

However, she felt lucky to have any holiday pay as other workers were not given their holiday or sick day entitlements.

''They don't give you holidays or sick days or anything. You aren't even allowed a 15-minute break.''

Any days off resulted in pay being docked, she said. She never reported the abuse as she knew it was illegal to accept cash payments and she did not want to be implicated in tax avoidance. Other employees were in the same situation, she said.

''Everybody wants to find another job where they get paid right and get sick pay, but for overseas workers it's very hard to find a job.''

Her story was echoed by another migrant woman who worked for the same businessman.

She was paid less than the minimum wage without holiday pay and often was not allowed to take breaks, even though she worked 10-hour days, she said.

''Sometimes, we didn't get a break in the whole day,'' she said.

''If we complained, they would cut our hours.''

The woman often felt employers took advantage of her, but she did not know who to turn to as the Labour Inspectorate could not help.

''It's somehow useless to complain [to the Labour Inspectorate],'' she said.

''A lot of people are complaining but it's a long wait [for any action to be taken].''

She said in one case a former co-worker was being paid $7 an hour and could not seek help as she did not speak English and was told she would be fired if she complained.


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