Migrant workers take boss to court

Sharry Ocampo wants the more than $4000 she is owed to tide her over during her pregnancy. Photo ...
Sharry Ocampo wants the more than $4000 she is owed to tide her over during her pregnancy. Photo / Greg Bowker
Migrant workers who were housed in central Auckland offices with no bathroom or kitchen facilities are taking their former employer to court over unpaid wages.

The Employment Relations Authority ordered Auckland woman Norajane Colos, the sole director of E-Advance, E-Jobs and E-Reuse companies, to pay $39,075 to six complainants plus an airline ticket for one of them to Sri Lanka within 14 days of March 13.

Authority member Eleanor Robinson had given Ms Colos until March 27 to pay a slightly lower amount of $38,796, and determinations from the authority showed Ms Colos had managed to pay only $3000 for the airline ticket, citing financial problems with her companies.

None of the six had received any further payments as of yesterday, and their lawyer said a complaint would be lodged in court today.

The bulk of the amount was for compensation, outstanding salaries and holiday entitlements.

Ms Colos said yesterday that she did not have the money now and could make the payments if she was given an August deadline.

"Out of my eagerness of wanting to settle everything, my unrealistic promise was to pay by December," she said.

"I'm not turning my back ... It's really hard for me to raise $40,000, it's really impossible, I don't know what to do."

Ms Colos claimed the migrants were complicit in the employment arrangements so that they could obtain residency in New Zealand.

She said she could not afford a lawyer.

One complainant, Sharry Ocampo, who is five months pregnant and is owed $4781, said the refusal to pay had made her feel "insulted and humiliated all over again".

Ms Ocampo, who is unemployed, said she needed the money to give her some financial stability during her pregnancy.

Last August, the Herald revealed that five workers complained to the authority about Ms Colos and her E-Advance company, claiming they were asked to pay up to $15,000 to secure employment, were not paid wages and pressed to lend money.

Some said they were forced to live in the company's level-four office at Albert Plaza in the CBD - where they did not have access to bathroom or kitchen facilities - after they ran out of money for rent and food.

Ms Colos had agreed during mediation to pay one quarter of the agreed sum on November 27 last year, with the rest being split over deadline dates in December, January and February.

A further order was made last month for Ms Colos to pay the outstanding amounts, after payments were not received.

Lawyer Oliver Christeller said he was lodging a complaint in court under section 137 of the Employment Relations Act. Under it, a person in default could be jailed for up to three months and fined up to $40,000.

Dennis Maga, co-ordinator for migrant workers union Unemig, said it was important that all was done to ensure Ms Colos met her legal obligations, otherwise it could send the message that employers could "get away easily" with exploiting migrants.

- Lincoln Tan, New Zealand Herald

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