The owner of a Waikato holiday park has been ordered to pay more than $680,000 and banned from employing staff for 18 months for exploitation of migrant workers.
The three staff described working at the Golden Springs Motel and Holiday Park in Reporoa as being “like a nightmare” and being trapped in a “prison”.
The Employment Court ordered New Zealand Fusion International to pay the three workers $100,000 each and its owner, Shenshen Guan, was judged personally liable for a further $150,000.
On top of the penalties, the workers are owed between $69,000 and $92,000 in unpaid wages and compensation.
A Labour Inspectorate investigation into New Zealand Fusion found two of the workers mortgaged a house and withdrew their children’s university funds in China to each pay a $45,000 premium “bond” to Ms Guan before coming to New Zealand to work at the holiday park.
They arrived on visitor visas and began working unlawfully at the property in Reporoa, between the North Island towns of Taupo and Rotorua, under false promises of being paid.
“This judgment sends a strong message that employers who exploit their workers will be put out of business, and charged penalties far in excess of what they may have gained,” said Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden.
The trio worked at the holiday park doing various jobs seven days a week and for no wages, the court heard.
Guan had changed their employment contracts and then used the fact that they had no working visas as a reason not to pay them.
She also claimed their “free” food and accommodation while staying onsite should also offset any expectation of payment.
One of the workers said the working conditions meant he “wanted to die”, the court was told.
“Any worker is lawfully entitled to minimum employment standards. Any employer who thinks they can flout these laws, especially by being in a rural environment where they think isolating workers is sight unseen, can expect to be heavily penalised,” said Lumsden.
“None of us want to believe that this sort of thing can happen in New Zealand but it is happening and we have to deal with it if we want to maintain our reputation as a fair country to work in and to trade with.”
Mr Lumsden did, though, tell TVNZ employers across the nation were becoming more mindful of their responsibilities to staff.
“Increasingly the Labour Inspectorate is seeing a range of industries taking deliberate and systematic steps to assure they’re treating their workers properly, including protecting industry reputation,” he said.