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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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