Business

Restaurant Owners to Pay $99K for Underpaying, Extorting Staff

By Hazle Jakubowski

May 25, 2024

129

In a landmark case, three immigrant restaurant workers who were paid less than $8 per hour and not compensated for all their working hours won a significant victory with the Employment Relations Authority. The employees had been threatened by their employers that they would have to pay $30,000 or face deportation. 

 

The case was brought against JDfoods, trading as Chilli India in Dinsdale, Hamilton. The Indian restaurant was owned by Jayant and Deepti Kaushal but has since closed down. This event came to light when one of the employees approached the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), prompting an investigation that revealed widespread corruption, extortion and exploitation within this prominent establishment. 

 

A recent decision supported by extensive documentary evidence along with audio recordings suggested that JDfoods coerced its employees into making payments under threat of job loss which would consequently lead to losing their right to stay in New Zealand. 

 

Moreover, it was found out that some staff members were paid as low as $7.68 per hour while also being routinely underpaid for actual work hours. They also never received compensation for working on public holidays. 

 

This unique situation unfolded during a 12-day hearing before Michael Loftus from the Employment Authority; he noted it was his first encounter with such circumstances in his 19 years of service. 

 

Evidence presented included an alleged scheme where employee Diksha Diksha had been promised help with her residence application in exchange for a hefty sum of $30,000.  

To avoid detection of these illicit transactions, the Kaushals used intricate methods like transferring money via parents based in India then routing them through Amit Seth before reaching themselves.  

Despite mounting evidence against them including bank transfer proofs showing large sums transacted from Diksha to Seth's account - they maintained their innocence claiming conspiracy against them even after lengthy cross-examinations over nine days 

 

Loftus dismissed their claims stating "bald assertions" alongside calling witnesses liars. Seth's lack of recollection over the $3000 payment from Diksha even after being shown bank statements was particularly suspicious. 

 

Deepti Kaushal later admitted to fabricating evidence and coercing witnesses, including their mothers, to lie which severely damaged their defence. "With respect to the case it was trying to support, it was undoubtedly the most destructive I have ever heard in this role," said Loftus. 

 

Following Mrs.Kaushal's admissions of falsifying documents and evidence, their defence crumbled. Subsequently, Loftus found JDfoods guilty of several employment law breaches such as failure to pay minimum wages, holiday pay and annual leave entitlements for its employees.  

Loftus ruled that JDfoods along with the Kaushals were liable for a total sum of $99,697 - comprising penalties payable to MBIE and arrears owed towards three employees. This landmark decision is seen as a significant win against exploitation in workplaces offering hope for immigrant workers in similar circumstances across New Zealand.



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