Restaurant owners sentenced in exploitation case

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A couple and their Auckland-based restaurant have been sentenced on charges of exploitation and providing false or misleading information relating to five Filipino employees they sponsored to come to New Zealand.

Dual Filipino New Zealand citizens Virgil and Luisito Balajadia and their restaurant, 3 Kings Food, were each earlier found guilty at the Auckland District Court of two charges of exploitation under the Immigration Act 2009.

Mrs Balajadia was convicted of five charges of providing false and misleading information – two of them jointly with Mr Balajadia - to Immigration New Zealand by providing misleading individual employment agreements for use in visa applications.

Mrs Balajadia has been sentenced to 26 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $7,200 reparation to victim today at the Auckland District Court.

Her husband was sentenced to eight months home detention and must pay $7,200 in reparation.

“You betrayed the trust of the victims who were strangers to this country and believed that you had their best interests at heart,” says the Judge who sentenced the pair.

The Judge went onto say that the working and living conditions of the victims was not far removed from a modern day form of slavery.

INZ Assistant General Manager, Peter Devoy, says the case came to light after the victim named in the exploitation charges reported his situation to the Philippines Consulate.

The victim was employed by the defendants from April 2014 until July 2015 and claimed to have consistently worked at least 10 hours per day, six days a week, without any breaks.

Although he worked well in excess of 40 hours a week, he was only ever paid for at most 40 hours per week and was paid nothing at all for the final three and a half months he worked at the restaurant.

Labour Inspectorate calculations estimated the victim had been underpaid by approximately $15,000 in wages, plus $2,000 less than the minimum wage and was owed $5,000 in holiday pay.

During his employment, the victim paid Mr and Mrs Balajadia $150 a week to live in a makeshift room in their garage.

“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,” Mr Devoy says. “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, INZ approved work visas for five victims, all chefs from the Philippines, after receiving offers of employment, letters of support and job descriptions for them to work at the restaurant.

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

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

Mr Devoy says the case came to court after painstaking work by INZ and the Labour Inspectorate and the prosecution sends a strong message that migrant exploitation will not be tolerated.

“The overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand,” Mr Devoy says.

“We will not tolerate employers who exploit migrant labour for their own commercial advantage and will not hesitate to prosecute in cases where warranted.”

“We encourage anyone being forced to work in New Zealand illegally for less than the minimum wage and/or excessive hours to contact Immigration New Zealand or the Labour Inspectorate. People can also contact CrimeStoppers anonymously.”


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