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Home detention in unlawful migrant case

Media Release

31 January 2013

The sentencing of a contractor in the horticulture industry for hiring unlawful migrant workers who were all paid below the minimum wage sends a strong message to employers who may contemplate employing migrants who are not entitled to work in New Zealand.

Bun Thuon Lam, a Vietnamese national with New Zealand residence, pleaded guilty to five charges under the Immigration Act relating to aiding and abetting people to remain in New Zealand unlawfully or to breach a condition of their visa. He has been sentenced at Nelson District Court to nine months’ home detention and 200 hours community work and ordered to pay reparation of $10,000, to be divided between the six workers involved.

The court heard that Lam employed the six in the horticulture industry in the Tasman region knowing they were unlawfully in New Zealand. The workers were not paid the minimum wage for the hours they had worked, were not paid regularly and were not paid any holiday pay.  None of the workers had employment contracts and no wage or time records were kept.

A Labour Inspector analysis of the hours worked by the workers estimated they were underpaid between $5,000 and $7,000 each.

The Labour Inspectorate had previously taken Lam to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA). In May 2011 the ERA ordered Lam to pay five of the workers a total of $36,938.16 in respect of unpaid wages, minimum wage arrears, public holiday pay, failing to provide individual employment agreements and making deductions from pay without obtaining written authority from the employees.

Immigration New Zealand’s Acting Fraud and Compliance Manager, Dean Blakemore, says that the employment of unlawful migrant workers will not be tolerated. “This case shows that the consequences of such behaviour are serious,” he says. “We will take swift action against any employer who is involved in such activity.”

Mr Blakemore says the case is a good example of close collaboration between INZ fraud and compliance staff and the Labour Inspectorate in the wider Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“The Ministry is treating this issue as a priority and INZ and Labour Inspectors’ compliance activity is being increased,” he says. “Most employers and most migrant workers are complying with the laws of New Zealand – they are being undermined, and New Zealand’s reputation sullied, by some who are breaking the law.”