Restaurant workers treated like modern-day slaves - judge

3:57 pm on 8 February 2018

Working and living conditions of some workers at a Filipino restaurant were not far removed from a modern-day form of slavery, an Auckland District Court judge says.

The owners of 3 Kings in Birkenhead treated their workers almost like slaves, Judge Nevin Dawson said.

The owners of 3 Kings in Birkenhead treated their workers almost like slaves, Judge Nevin Dawson said. Photo: Screenshot / Googlemaps

The exploitation of workers at 3 Kings Food in Birkenhead was raised with Immigration New Zealand after one worker raised concerns with the Philippines Consulate, Immigration said.

The victim was sponsored by the company and moved from the Philippines to work at the restaurant from April 2014 until July 2015.

He said he worked at least 10 hours per day, six days a week, without any breaks.

But Immigration found he was only ever paid for up to 40 hours per week and was paid nothing at all for the final three-and-a-half months he worked at the restaurant.

The Labour Inspectorate estimated the worker had been underpaid by about $15,000 in wages, $2000 for being paid under minimum wage, and was owed $5000 in holiday pay.

During his employment, the victim paid the restaurant owners $150 a week to live in a makeshift room in their garage.

Owners Luisito and Virgil Balajadia were sentenced at Auckland District Court today to 26 months in prison and eight months home detention, respectively.

Judge Nevin Dawson ordered each of them to pay $7200 to the victim.

"This employee was living at the defendants' house and was taken to the restaurant by the owners every morning and then back to their house at night.

"He was told he would be reported to the police and sent home if he did not perform well in his job," Immigration assistant general manager Peter Devoy said.

"He could only leave the house for short periods of time and cleaned the defendants' house on Mondays when the restaurant was closed."

Over a period of two years, Immigration approved work visas for five workers at the resturant, all chefs from the Philippines, after receiving offers of employment, letters of support and job descriptions for them to work at the restaurant.

They were contracted to work for a minimum of 30 hours per week at an hourly rate of $16, but were all either not paid at all or paid for far fewer hours than they worked.

Four of the victims have left New Zealand and the fifth has remained on a valid visa to work for another employer.

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