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Canterbury bakers who didn’t pay employee for 985 hours work fined $115k

A Canterbury bakery have been fined $115,000 for seriously exploiting and underpaying two migrant employees, including one who worked 985 hours without being paid at all.

La Wheat Limited’s director Wannakawattawaduge Janaka Sujeewa Fernando and his wife Arumadura Udeni Lakmali Fernando have been ordered to pay more $115,000 plus interest, including $75,000 in wage arrears.

Employment Relations Authority (ERA) fined the company and the Fernandos $40,000 in penalties. The company was ordered to pay $20,000, with the rest split between Mr and Mrs Fernando.

The ERA also ordered the company to pay over $75,000 in arrears to the employees, who were not paid the minimum wage or any payments owed under the Holidays Act.

Labour Inspectorate Regional Manager Jeanie Borsboom said in a statement: "One employee worked 985 hours without being paid at all, in addition to working in poor conditions with long hours and no breaks".

Throughout the investigation and the ERA hearing the Fernandos continued to argue that one employee only worked 35 hours per week and the other was not working.

But, the ERA found that the first employee worked considerably more hours, and that the Fernandos’ persistent denial that the second was not working for them defied all reasonable credibility.

"The Fernandos consistently took advantage of the pair, deliberately exploiting vulnerable workers and depriving them of basic employment rights," says Ms Borsboom.

"Migrant workers are a vulnerable part of the employment market and should not be exploited for the benefit of individuals and companies," she says.

During the period of the pair's employment, La Wheat Limited operated La Wheat bakeries in Methven, Bush Inn Shopping Centre and Leeston.

The company still operates its Leeston bakery, La Wheat Methven has since closed and La Wheat Bush Inn was sold to new owners.

“These types of businesses not only exploit vulnerability. They also undermine legitimate businesses who are doing the right thing by their workers and start a 'race to the bottom," Ms Borsboom says.

Ciabatta bread. Source: istock.com