10 Jan 2016

Man awarded $25,000 after work exploitation

3:45 pm on 10 January 2016

An Indian man who worked long hours and was required to give his employer a large kickback of his wages has been awarded $25,008.37.

In a newly-released decision, the Employment Relations Authority has found Amit Sharma was exploited for more than a year while working at a Four Square supermarket in Napier.

He was in the country on a work visa and felt compelled to abide by the demands of his employer, Chetanbhai Patel, who was endorsing his application for permanent residency.

His visa limited him to working at the supermarket.

He would sometimes work more than 70 hours a week and had to reimburse Mr Patel the equivalent of his pay-as-you-earn tax, or PAYE tax.

Mr Patel said the kickbacks were to repay a loan.

Mr Sharma was dismissed early last year when he refused to give up a portion of his salary.

The authority ruled Mr Sharma was treated unfairly and awarded him unpaid wages and holiday pay.

It also found Mr Patel falsified his wage records in an attempt to defend his payment system.

"I find it is more likely the Patels did not want a paper trail evidencing Mr Sharma depositing sums of money to them because the repayments were a consequence of the employment arrangement as opposed to a personal loan," said authority member Michele Ryan.

Unite Union said work visas should not be tied to a specific job or occupation, as this enabled employers to take advantage of migrants.

The union's national director Mike Treen said there could be tens of thousands of migrants who suffered abuse because they feared having to leave the country.

"It's very difficult for them to change their status until workers are given the freedom of other workers, the freedom to change their employment, they will not be able to protect themselves from unscrupulous employers."

Everyone should have the right to change their employment, he said.