A lawyer has accused OneUnion of blackmailing and defaming a couple after we filed a claim alleging, they stole $120,000 from a worker. Their lawyer claims it’s a crime that a union would expose an exploiter and have the temerity to demand the boss give the money back. The lawyer says they will make a police complaint of extortion if we don’t back down. Crikey! I wonder if they have ever heard of a union strike. They’d probably want the army called out. I’d love to respond to a police complaint online. That would be a great help to publicise our case.
Every exploiter and their lawyers want to keep their crimes out of public view. Keeping exploitation in the darkness allows this poison to spread. OneUnion decided a week ago that we will publish any case where we are representing a worker that we believe is being seriously exploited or abused. Our protocols are simple. We formally write to the alleged exploiter and engage in establishing the case facts, according to each side. If they refuse to engage or attend mediation if requested, we reserve the right to publish. We send them my article the day before we publish to allow them time to correct anything.
It seems exploiters and alleged exploiters don’t like our new policy of openness. This couple’s lawyer sent us an email threatening that if we published this article, he would sue me personally, and OneUnion, for defamation. Good luck. I will keep telling the truth until they stop lying. Apparently, telling the truth is something to be sued for. My union would see being sued by an exploiter for exposing them as a badge of honour. I certainly would. The only way we will get a change in our country is everyone knowing who these exploiters and abusers are. I intend to expose these abusers every time, all the time.
Only when the community knows the level of rampant exploitation that goes on, can we get the political will and the tools to end it. I hope this lawyer and his clients do sue. We will then get the opportunity to provide the details of migrant exploitation in the full public glare of the media.
This is the case the lawyer wanted me to suppress. Jaya Bharath Reddy Gopu and Divya Bereddy are an up and coming power couple in Christchurch. A couple of months ago I got a call from a lawyer friend from Wellington, saying he had a young man claiming he was being threatened by this couple. I’ll call him ER. My mate the lawyer sent me the case file and cheerfully said to my colleague: “This isn’t a case for a lawyer, it’s more a case for Matt.” Thanks mate.
ER had received an email that accused him of telling lies to his immigration case manager and saying he had been bad-mouthing the couple around town. ER was required to attend a disciplinary meeting immediately and they threatened “we will be going legally on these issues and will be reported to concern authorities.” It was signed “management”. Unnamed emails always make me suspicious.
ER was on a temporary visa and was terrified. My colleague contacted the boss and said OneUnion would have someone attend the meeting as his support person. The meeting was abruptly cancelled.
When I got ER’s file, I knew why I got the hospital pass. ER had left the job three months earlier. It seems ER had applied for permanent residency and the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) case manager was concerned that he wasn’t been paid correctly and had not been provided payslips. I understand when the case manager made enquiries to the employer, the couple withdrew their support for ER’s current visa. This meant ER promptly lost his job. The ‘management’ email alleged he had lied about the couple to INZ. They also claimed he’d stolen from them. The truth is, he had been telling INZ the truth, and that’s why they started digging. The allegations of dishonesty against the young man are easily dismissed. It was clear the employer wanted to shut him up, and if that didn’t work, they wanted him discredited.
After going through ER’s bank statements, texts, emails and recordings, it was clear this couple were running an exploitation racket across their companies. ER was only paid a total of four weeks holiday leave over his four years’ tenure. They owe him for 11 more weeks. Interestingly, they closed their businesses for a week each year, and stood their workers down. None of them, I understand, were paid their holiday entitlements. What I just don’t understand is how any employer could do this to their workers.
ER says he was required to work 55-60 hours a week. He has evidence for working these hours. ER was paid for only 30 hours a week. This meant he was required to work 25-30 hours for free each week. Using 25 hours as a calculation, he is owed $113,000 with another $21,000 for annual leave and public holidays. I’m told other employees were required to work for free and weren’t paid annual holidays or public holidays either. If this is true, the couple may have stolen over a million dollars from their workers.
When I hear about exploitation cases I always offer the abuser a chance to make it right before we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Without exception, their greed and arrogance win over their common sense. I wrote to the couple giving them the opportunity to do the right thing.
When we first raise a worker’s grievance, we instruct the employer they are not permitted to contact our client. The usual tactic from exploiters is to have a middleman approach the worker and try to get them to accept a paltry offer, aided by veiled threats of getting them deported. Sometimes the worker’s family back in their home countries are approached and menaced.
Sure enough, an intermediatory known to both the couple and ER approached him shortly after my letter was sent. The conduit proposed the couple would pay him up to $40,000 through an overseas account. ER wanted it to be settled through the union. The person said the couple didn’t want to do that because then they would have to admit their guilt. A secret compromise was suggested where the couple could admit to a minor breach and pay a smaller settlement through mediation. That way the union could be placated. The remaining could be deposited offshore. I have dealings with the police squad that deals with this sort of money laundering. They say it’s becoming disturbingly common.
After ER turned down the offer, the intermediatory said that if ER didn’t accept the deal, the couple had a very powerful lawyer who would win for them. Their lawyer, true to his word, is playing hardball. He denies everything, alleges crimes, won’t engage or won’t agree to go to mediation. I have been told current employees have been coached to verify their employer’s version and compelled to sign statements prepared for them, claiming ER only worked for 30 hours a week.
It is clear to me this couple is running a calculated exploitation racket. We have formally complained to INZ, the MBIE Labour Inspectorate and the IRD Investigation team, and have asked them to investigate this couple and their companies. We have also filed into the Employment Relations Authority.
We want to create an UTU Squad in Christchurch. UTU are volunteers publicly exposing exploitation and abuse of vulnerable workers. If you want to be part of the fightback contact us on email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are compiling a dossier for INZ, MBIE and IRD. Please send any information on Jaya Bharath Reddy Gopu or his wife Divya Bereddy. Their companies are Maria Anthony Reading Limited (3 businesses), Fly Cheap Travel Agency and Crazy Discounters, based at 189 Colombo Street, Sydenham.
We have our campaign bus ready for action to support our campaign to end exploitation in Aotearoa. We would appreciate you making a small koha to help get us on the road. Please go to here.
In solidarity / Nga mihi
Matt McCarten is the National Director of One Union and a Trustee of UTU For The People.