Last updated 18:17, October 16 2015
Masala restaurant managers who paid their workers as little as $3 per hour will serve home detention sentences of less than a year.
Joti Jain and Rajwinder Singh Grewal appeared at the Auckland District Court for sentencing on Friday after earlier pleading guilty to a raft of immigration and exploitation charges relating to the treatment of four workers at Masala Indian restaurants in Mission Bay, Takapuna and Bucklands Beach.
The victims, four Indian and Indian-Fijian nationals, were promised visas in exchange for their toil, but were paid less than minimum wage and went weeks without any pay at all.
One had no visa and was working in the country illegally.
In a victim impact statement read by Judge Anne Kiernan, one described working at Masala as "hell".
"He thought he was getting a good job so he could secure his life in New Zealand. Instead he said he was overworked, underpaid and subjected to abuse by the owners. If he dared to approach you about pay he would get abused by you," she said.
According to a summary of facts, Bucklands Beach Masala worker Gagandeep Singh worked 11 hours a day, six days a week but was only paid $250 a week.
He was told by Grewal he would not be paid for the first two weeks because he was training.
Another waitress at Masala Takapuna, named only as Robin, worked 11 hours a day, six days a week and was paid $201.51 per week, equating to $3 per hour.
Defence counsel for Jain and Grewal, Ron Mansfield, told Judge Kiernan that the Masala chains received frequent requests for employment from people seeking visas.
Mansfield said the pair had "succumbed" to the requests and "capitalised on the individual's desperation".
"Masala restaurants have 177 employees who do work there, are paid, and have full visas. It's important that is understood by the community at least," he said.
Judge Kiernan described Jain as the ringleader whose offending was "sophisticated and clearly premeditated".
On 15 charges including supplying misleading information to an immigration officer, failing to pay holiday pay and comply with minimum wage standards, inciting visa breaches and conspiracy, Jain was ordered to carry out an 11 month home detention sentence at her Remuera home.
She was also ordered to do 220 hours community work and pay reparations to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment of $58,000, which was paid on the spot by way of a cheque made out for $56,719.71, with another $925 outstanding.
On charges of failing to pay holiday pay and minimum wage, aiding an employee to breach a visa and aiding an employee to remain in New Zealand, Grewal was sentenced to four and a half months home detention.
Grewal was also ordered to pay reparations of $4781.62 but the court was told he could only afford to pay back $20 per week.
It was revealed in court that Grewal was already serving a supervision-based sentence after being convicted of assault, resisting police, threatening behaviour and wilful damage.
Because he couldn't serve the supervision alongside the home detention, he was ordered to do community work.
Both Grewal and Jain were told not to carry out business-related activities during their sentences.
IMMIGRATION NEW ZEALAND RESPONSE
Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager, Peter Devoy, said the sentence sent a strong message that migrant exploitation was not tolerated.
"The overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand," he said.
"Addressing the exploitation of migrants is a priority for the Ministry and we will not tolerate employers who exploit migrant labour for their own commercial advantage."
Mr Devoy said the Ministry didn't hesitate to prosecute where it was warranted. "We encourage anyone currently 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, where your concerns will be handled in a safe environment."
EMPLOYMENT AUTHORITY ORDERS PAYMENT
An Employment Relations Authority decision released on Monday reveals Joti Jain was ordered to pay another worker more than $5000 in lost earnings.
Gurinderjit Singh also sought compensation for what he said was unjustifiable dismissal but as he hadn't sought the claim within the requisite 90 days, the authority was unable to rule on the matter.
Singh worked at Masala Browns Bay as an assistant manager from December 2014.
Although the decision noted neither Masala nor Singh had provided adequate evidence as to Singh's earnings, what was provided showed he had been shortchanged during his employment.
The authority ordered Jain, who trades under the name NZ Tradings Ltd, to pay him $4572.50 in lost earnings and a further $1018.03 for holiday pay.
* There are other restaurants in New Zealand called Masala that are not connected to the Auckland chain.
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