EXPLOITER EXTORTS AND BLACKMAILS WORKERS

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Tokoroa businessman Harjit Singh is accused of blackmailing employees to pay cash and work free overtime for three years. Failure to pay the boss meant the workers would lose their jobs and be deported. OneUnion filed a case for two workers to be reimbursed nearly $100,000 for wages, overtime and annual holiday pay. 

Harjit Singh, was the owner of the two petrol stations Challenge Aotea and Mobil Tokoroa (the latter was recently later renamed as Challenge Tokoroa). Harjit employed the workers for three years from 2016. Since the workers first raised their claims 18 months ago, the owner has used an everchanging line-up of five different lawyers in a cynical strategy to delay and frustrate the case against him. Three days before he was instructed by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to attend an investigation meeting, he ‘sold’ the Challenge Tokoroa station to his son and liquidated his company. Harjit then filed with the ERA to dismiss the case because his company no longer existed. 

His son Udamjit Singh was the manager of the business and we believe was an active participant in the abuses. We have recordings of Udamjit, as well as his father, demanding cash from the workers. OneUnion has been told that Harjit has also been exploiting other previous employees for years. The father has now gone into hiding, but we know he remains in Tokoroa with his son.

OneUnion demands that Harijit return $41,000 to one worker and $55,000 to the other. With penalties, interest and costs, the full amount exceeds well over $100,000. 

For nearly three years, these workers were required to work 55 hours a week. Recordings reveal how these workers were robbed. Although they were paid the correct wages as per their contracts, they were forced on pay day to hand over cash equal to 15 hours work (i.e. the difference of 40 and 55 hours). This amounted to $250 – $300 a week. 

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If a worker did this to a boss, the police would arrest the worker and they would be imprisoned. Clearly, we have one law for bosses and one law for workers. To rub salt into their wounds, the workers paid PAYE on money they had to give to their boss. Neither worker was paid for public holidays nor received their annual holiday entitlements. 

Harijit admitted to OneUnion that the two employees did work 55 hours a week, although he denies they had to pay him money back. The recordings show otherwise. To get himself off the hook, he offered each worker $7,000 if OneUnion would agree to drop the case against him. 

Harijit has been dishonest throughout the entire process to the workers, OneUnion, the ERA and even to his own lawyers. He tried many excuses, such as his apparent bad health, to avoid being held accountable. He even got his doctor to write to the ERA saying he was incapacitated at home. That fell apart when he was seen walking around Tokoroa in fine form. 

Eventually, when the Authority had tired of his tactics, they ordered him to attend their hearing. Three days before he was booked to appear, he sold the Challenge Aotea in Tokoroa to his son Udamjit, who was the manager. Harijit and Udamjit think they have gotten away with their crime by using dubious legal tricks. We shall see. 

When we first filed this case, Harijit owned two Challenge petrol stations in Tokoroa. We advised the Authority that Harijit was seeking to get rid of both stations before he was held to account. He sold Challenge Tokoroa shortly after we filed our case. Now we hear that the purchaser has taken Harijit to court. Totally unsurprising. His son now has the Challenge Aotea station.

OneUnion has linked up with the Migrant Workers Association to get justice for these two employees. We are visiting Tokoroa on Friday 25 September to meet with community leaders and the extended whanau of the two exploited employees. 

We have advised Challenge NZ of their franchisee’s criminality last Friday. This was all news to them. Harijit is no longer a franchisee, so there is little they can do. However Udamjit is now a new franchisee. We will provide our case file to Challenge. They have agreed to investigate the matter and take appropriate action. We will monitor this commitment.

The Tokoroa community has a proud history of fighting for workers’ rights. We have no doubt the good people of Tokoroa will show the rest of our nation how to win justice for minimum wage workers who have been exploited. Harijit Singh and his son Udamjit need to make it right.

Harijit and Udamjit should not be allowed to be employ workers, let alone sponsor visas for migrant workers. OneUnion is compiling a dossier on both men for the MBIE Labour Inspectorate, Immigration NZ, and the Inland Revenue Department. One Union will request action from these government entities.  

If you have any information on Harjit Singh or his son Udamjit Singh, or would like to help the campaign to end exploitation in Tokoroa, please contact us at justice@oneunion.org.nz. Julia will contact you back.

We have our campaign bus ready for action to support a campaign to end exploitation in Tokoroa. We would appreciate you making a small koha to help get us on the road. Please go to here.

 

Nga Mihi / Thank you 

Anu Kaloti is President of Migrant Workers Association.

Matt McCarten is the National Director of One Union

21 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Singh needs to watch his karma. The case of exploited workers I took to the ERA, took two years eight months to win, due to delaying tactics by the self-designated managing director, stressed me massively, but it was the exploiter who died ten years later, aged about 60. He never got to enjoy his only – as far as I know – grandchild, nor the fruits and vegetables of his dishonest dealings.

  2. And another case of these crims ripping off workers and breaking our laws, – we now start to wonder how many other crims are hiding in the woodwork, – esp since free market deregulation and the destruction of Unions thanks obliquely to roger douglas and more directly – ruth richardson.

    Keep it coming, Matt.

    Keep it coming.

    • WK. They’re there alright. I’ve paid for the odd cash job, but one franchiser from a well-known company who employs independent contractors who use standover tactics to avoid gst , I reported to the IRD when he explicitly invited me to break the law, and I reported a second one who was abusive when I said I didn’t have the cash which he said he wanted “for Christmas” – he got quite nasty, so I dobbed him in too. The first one’s maths was wrong anyway, re the cost difference between GST and non-GST, so he deserved to be done for wrong sums. Yep, the well-known company franchiser is an immigrant, and I don’t like living this way.

  3. This keeps happening again and again and again, and these scumbags only ever seem to be handed nominal penalties at best. A $5000 fine seems to the very worst they can expect; which they’re always very happy to take in their stride as a cost of doing business.

    The solution to this issue is to hit these pricks where it hurts. Civil cases that actually take away the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars they’ve stolen (plus real fines >$100,000), even if the cash is being sheltered in a trust under their wife’s sister’s husband’s name.

    And why not hit them with criminal asset recovery proceedings while you’re at it? Last time I looked slavery, worker exploitation, tax avoidance and visa fraud were all criminal offences in New Zealand.

    The only way we’re ever going to see an end to this stuff is when it finally hurts the perpetrators in the pocket and makes it financially unviable for them to keep doing it.

  4. This kind of scumbaggery has become so common it seems to need an intervention to solve it.

    That task force raptor Bridges wanted? Just the kind of guys to let loose on these exploiter employers.

    And maybe we the public can help too – I’m never buying another thing from Bottle O – blacklist all of them.

  5. Simple solution – detach all the work visas from employers to make them open visas – only then the employees dare to leave the employment and take up any job immediately without worrying to find another employer who can support for his variation of conditions or new work visa – it’s all in the hands of immigration new zealand !! No one is looking beyond the employers and what are the loop holes in the system….it’s all in the current visa settings. Another thing is get rid of the salary thresholds – which is another reason – both employer and employee make a written agreement to work for 30 hours a week which is the minimum requirement for immigration new zealand but in reality employees work for 50-60 hours to satisfy the employer…if these two settings are not changed or removed – THIS WILL NOT STOP – full stop.

  6. Comrades,
    Just an update. This Daily Blog post is making the rounds in Tokoroa. The two workers and their partners are delighted that people are caring what happened to them. A local boycott campaign is already underway in the town. By exposing this sort of naked greed and exploitation of workers, we will get communities involved.
    Some of our team are travelling to Tokoroa on Friday to meet up with the locals. If we can get enough in the town to take collective actions against these exploiters, we will have a model of how we can win defeat exploitation everywhere.
    After all, the people/workers united will never be defeated, has always been true.
    Do share this article around and if you have a spare coin, link through and support the little UTU bus. I’m keen to take it down to Tokoroa if we can. I need to put diesel in it 🙂
    In solidarity / Nga mihi.
    Matt

  7. Apparently the PM wrote to the India community asking for they votes in exchange for issuing visa’s to more Indian immigrants and we all know how corrupt the Immigration department is in India we will have hordes
    of dodgy pricks like these two flooding the country.

  8. neoliberalism attracts all kinds of moths to its flame.
    And can I just say, on a more agricultural level, what a wanker.
    What a dodgy, sketchy wanker…. Aye boys?

  9. Overnight we have been contacted from other workers with stories of exploitation from this father and son. We also have been contacted by local people who want to help a campaign to get justice for these workers and end exploitation in Tokoroa. Very encouraging. Matt

  10. We (Tokoroa), have welcomed these families into our community and supported them in every way a community can. Met their workers, who are very humble and polite. Only to find out that the owners of the business are ripping off their own whanau. This is the 2nd case (different business) that Tokoroa has had in a year. I personally knew the worker involved in the first case and I couldn’t believe the dirty works behind the scenes. These ‘dirty works’ people do not deserve to hide in New Zealand. And I’m sure, tax paying NZers don’t want to be paying for their stay in jail.

  11. He ain’t the only Singh to do this. The problem is they give the good ones a bad name. And this is what happens when you let too many people back door it into our country they bring their baggage from their own country. How many did national let in, in the 9 years they were in government?

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