Grant Hewison, Fa’anana Efeso Collins and Christina Stringer. Photo / Supplied
Catherine McGregor, local democracy journalist
Auckland Council inspectors are urged to take worker exploitation more seriously after the approval of liquor permits for bottle shop owners who violate employment laws.
“It’s modern slavery – downright.”
Grant Hewison of Communities Against Alcohol Harm doesn’t mince his words, following the news of another South Auckland liquor store caught in labor law violations.
Clevedon Road liquor store owner Satnam Singh Jador was fined $ 20,000 and ordered to reimburse four employees $ 97,361.66 for a series of offenses, including non-payment of minimum wage for all hours worked by staff. The Labor Inspectorate noted that this case had all the characteristics of exploitation, as workers needed the job to keep their visas.
The Employment Relations Authority’s decision is the second in South Auckland this year. Super Liquor Papatoetoe was ordered to pay nearly $ 50,000 for exploiting a migrant worker in February, while for the past 18 months Thirsty Liquor East Tamaki has been fined $ 1,000 and Thirsty Liquor Wickman Way in Māngere was fined $ 2,000, both for breach of terms of employment. laws.
He says Auckland Council licensing inspectors need to take the exploitation of workers more seriously by checking whether bottle shop owners have complied with labor laws.
“In the case of the Papatoetoe and Māngere stores, license inspectors reported no problems with labor law violations, although investigations by the labor inspectorate are ongoing.
“If someone works exorbitant hours, isn’t paid fairly, and is exploited, then that’s modern day slavery in my book.
“And given that there have been so many publications about the extent of labor law concerns about bottle shops – you would have thought that liquor license applicants would be asked questions to find out if there had been negative reports about them from the labor inspectorate. “
Auckland councilor Fa’anana Efeso Collins, who represents the Manukau neighborhood, agrees that labor law violations should be factored into licensing decisions.
“If the people working for liquor store owners don’t feel safe, then someone needs to step in on their behalf, especially if those owners are exploiting,” he says. “It’s definitely something we need to look at.
“The liquor sales law is supposed to give the community more say, so more complete information should be available, to give the community a much clearer picture of what kind of retailer they are. is.”
Christina Stringer, associate professor at the University of Auckland, an expert on modern slavery, says the problem is widespread in New Zealand. She knows of many instances where employees have been forced to work “excessively long hours” without breaks, often alone, while being monitored by cameras.
As was the case at the Clevedon Liquor store, employers often keep two sets of records, one designed to make it look like they’re operating legally, while a second shows employees’ actual working hours, explains. Stringer.
In some cases, employers demand that their staff reimburse part of their wages, with threats of visa revocation being used as a means of control.
She says Auckland council needs to work more closely with labor inspection teams within the Ministry of Enterprise, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to tackle these practices.
“Many migrants are convinced that working in a liquor store is the path to residence,” she says. “The Labor Inspectorate is the key agency. But the central government cannot do it alone. Everyone has a role to play.”
In a written response, Auckland Council’s senior liquor licensing officer, Rob Abbott, said the council cannot “revoke liquor licenses” from stores that exploit workers, as such decisions fall within the purview of the the responsibility of the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority.
“However, council liquor license inspectors may ask the authority to cancel a liquor license when there is evidence that a license holder is violating employment laws that justify the cancellation. .
“We also have the possibility to take into account the history of an applicant as an employer and take it into account when deciding whether to support or oppose the granting or renewal of an application. license. “
MBIE says it only shares its labor inspection findings with approved inspectors from local authorities “if requested”, but says measures have recently been instituted, such as creating a visa for migrants when they leave exploitative situations, and a dedicated hotline to report bad employers, should help tackle these practices.
“These violations are a blatant disregard for minimum employment standards,” says Loua Ward, of the Auckland Labor Inspectorate.
“We continue to see workers in the liquor industry not getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. [But] cases of exploitation of workers in New Zealand will not be tolerated. “