Cruelty Destroys Young Mums: Boss Demands $35,000 to Stop Dismissal – More Evil Than We Thought

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Local Leader points out the crime scene

It’s Worse Than We Think

Two young mothers are crushed by the casual cruelty of their exploiter. A soon-to-be father was refused leave to attend his spouse in labour. A young mother was told to send her baby to India so she could work more unpaid hours. A husband was asked for $35,000 for his wife to keep her job. The exploiter outfoxes MBIE and state justice. It is left to the citizens of Tokoroa to organise and demand justice for the victims.

My previous article on the exploiter distressed many readers. OneUnion have filed serious exploitation charges against Challenge petrol station owners Harjit Singh and his son Udamjit Singh from Tokoroa. These two exploiters now owe $130,000 just in unpaid wages for three employees. There will be more. The OneUnion team went to Tokoroa last Friday to meet the workers and talk to locals. The reality of the exploitation is even worse than we thought.

My team spoke to the spouse of ER, one of the petrol station workers we are representing. We thought we had correlated all the case details when we originally filed the workers’ cases. When Sarah and ER chatted to our team, we realised it was worse. Sarah says when the boss went to India for three months, ER was required to work 15 hours every day from opening to closing, for the entire time. Not a single day off. That’s over 100 hours a week for 13 weeks. When Harjit returned, ER got his first day off in three months. Within four hours the boss called him back to work. Sarah through tears said on Friday “ER works so hard and the boss couldn’t even hack four hours, when he makes ER work daily stretches of 15 hours.”

The couple told the boss they were expecting a child and arranged for two weeks parental leave. On the day of Sarah going into labour she phoned ER to leave and take her to the hospital. For hours ER was crying on the phone to Harjit, begging to send someone to relieve him. He wouldn’t.

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We asked why ER didn’t just leave. ER said he was frightened because Harjit said if he did, ER would lose his visa. Sarah says “this blackmail was the worst part.” It took three hours before the boss arrived. Sarah was in hospital for three days. On the fourth day, Harjit rescinded ER’s leave and demanded he to return to work. Through tears Sarah said “they took away the most important and magical moments of our life.”

 

Exploiter Sacks Young Father And Outfoxes ERA

Shortly after this outrage, ER’s employment was terminated after he asked for his holiday pay and to have his unpaid hours reduced so he could help his family. Yes, you read that right. He was summarily dismissed. ER didn’t get the visa support he was promised. He didn’t even get the holiday pay he was owed. The exploiter then deliberately dragged out the legal process for nearly two years.

The workers tell us Harjit was coming into the petrol station every day, whilst at the same time telling the Mediation Service he was bedridden, and couldn’t even take a conference call. His lawyers were so embarrassed at his many bald-faced lies they quit in succession. Harjit went through five lawyers.

When the Employment Relations Authority finally instructed Harjit to attend an investigation meeting, he transferred ownership of the station to his son, three days before the meeting. Then he liquidated his company. The ERA have washed their hands of it and say it’s now our responsibility to deal with the liquidator. The liquidator tells us to naff off.

 

The Human Damage: The Community Rallies

As a result of the termination, ER lost his visa sponsorship which made him liable for deportation. As new parents, and ER newly unemployed, the couple had to borrow thousands of dollars to apply for a partnership visa. Sarah said she is traumatised and has become consumed by this injustice. She thinks about it every day.

On Friday, the OneUnion team went to the local supermarket to distribute leaflets and to assess the mood of the locals about Harjit and Udamjit Singh’s exploitation. Many of them had read my Daily Blog article online and were delighted people were stepping up for these workers. Everyone knew about the father and son’s exploitation. Samples of the comments were: “God, we really hope you get justice we will do everything we can to help”; three-quarters of people said they would attend a protest: “Let us know when the protest will be. We will be there.”

Others read the flyer in their cars and then came back to express their condolences, and to let Sarah know they would tell everyone they knew. The local Cosmopolitan Club have been tremendous. We picked up over ten locals who volunteered for any campaign.

Our team got to meet Sarah’s mum. Her mother, a kuia in the finest sense, couldn’t understand how the law and “the system have failed.” My team said she was in a quiet fury and almost lost for words. She did say “I knew how horrible this all was, because I have never seen grown men like my son-in-law cry the way he had been. This really hit us in the heart.”

And just when you think you know what a crushed heart feels like, it gets worse.

 

Young Mother Told to Send Baby to India

We met another young mother on Friday. I’ll call her KT. She also worked for this father-and-son criminal racket. She wasn’t one of the workers we were representing. But after reading my Daily Blog article she drove from Tauranga on Friday with her partner to see us.

Two years ago, both her and her husband needed to have jobs, hoping that with their employer’s support one of them could get permanent residency. Harjit, the father, agreed to employ KT. Unfortunately, her husband could only find a job in Tauranga. As such they had to live in different towns.

Although her contract was for 40 hours a week, and KT had a newly born baby, Harjit insisted she work up to 60 hours a week. The additional hours were unpaid. This was very hard on KT and her daughter. Harjit found a diary in which KT was recording her hours of work. He confiscated it. She started a new diary. He confiscated that too. KT had no choice but to endure this to keep her job.

For a while KT’s mother came to visit from India and was able to look after her granddaughter. Business owners near the Challenge station said they remember watching “the poor girl work all day.” KT was working 12-hour shifts. The locals said they “could see she was being abused.” When we told the local neighbours the truth on Friday they were outraged. One of the locals said “she is such a sweet girl who obviously broke her back all day as her baby was at home with his grandma.”

After KT’s mother’s visitor permit ended, she had to return to India. KT asked Harjit to reduce her hours to just the 40 hours in her employment agreement, so she could spend time with her baby. He said no. He said it wasn’t his problem. If she wanted his support for her visa, the baby had to go to India.

Many migrants want so badly to build a better life for them and their family. Both parents have to work long hours and endure exploitive conditions. They have to endure this abuse in the hope of getting a permanent visa with their employer’s support.

I have come across several parents who have had to send their children away. KT’s baby is now in India. It is heart wrenching. Migrants tell me of only knowing their babies by Skype. They miss their babies’ first steps, their first words, their tears. The parents cry a lot.

 

The Brutality of Evil

One day out of the blue, KT’s employment ends. Udamjit the son, phones KT to say his father has sold the petrol station to him. This was of course the manoeuvre to avoid the ERA. As such, Udamjit was now the boss and said she was not to come to work anymore. She was dismissed from that very moment. KT never returned to the station and has never received her final wage. Nor her holiday pay.

KT’s husband was furious and went to Harjit asking about her visa support. Harjit replied the couple would now have to pay him $35,000 to support the visa for KT. The husband told him where to go.

The couple now live in Tauranga on one income. They went to a lawyer. They are now $5,700 poorer and their lawyer got them nothing. With the COVID 19 pandemic they have even had his income dramatically reduced, and can’t afford to be reunited with their child. KT is owed $32,000. Of course, we will represent them for free.

The OneUnion team say KT and her husband are a lovely couple. The couple are still in shock that someone could do this to them. The couple say Harjit and Udamjit have destroyed their lives. One of our team was a young volunteer and was in tears. On their way back to Auckland she texted that KT is “the loveliest girl, quiet and shy but with a beautiful nature”.

Both couples and their friends were incredibly grateful for our support. But why should workers have to be grateful? They have to thank people they have never met, because they can’t get simple justice we used to all take for granted?

 

Prime Minister Needs to Step Up

Our employment laws are a joke. They protect bosses. Our institutions are failing. How does it take 18 months to even get a hearing in the Employment Relations Authority? How is it that MBIE inspectors tell bosses the name of employees who reported them on their confidential exploiter hotline? Our commercial laws are corrupt. How does an exploiter get to transfer his business to another exploiter, and then get away with his crime with the press of a button? It’s clear there is one law for bosses and one for workers. A worker would already be in prison if they did a fraction of what this boss did.

 

Blatant exploitation is becoming a normal state. Migrants are terrified of being deported if they speak up for themselves. That’s because it’s true. Immigration officers turn up on their doorsteps with deportation papers within 14 days after an exploiter reports them. Some of our bureaucracy is bloated, and we have lazy politicians at the wheel.

 

After this election the new prime minister needs keep Andrew Little as Workplace Minister. She needs to also appoint another senior MP as the Immigration Minister, who has the seniority and the political will to ensure the exploiters are firmly held to account and the exploited get prompt justice. The only suitable person I can think of is David Parker.

What to do?

New Zealanders have to step up. Communities have to own this abuse in their neighbourhoods.

Here is my immediate action list:

  • I will write to Challenge NZ to demand they investigate Harjit and Udamjit Singh’s actions. If either of them are guilty (they are), Challenge must rescind their contract. 
  • I will formally request MBIE Labour Inspectorate, IRD and Immigration NZ to investigate these two men. 
  • We will launch a petition in Tokoroa to get 1000 citizens to sign up to a campaign to end exploitation in Tokoroa, and to hold these two exploiters to account.
  • We will organise a public rally in Tokoroa in a month’s time. Our demand is that Harjit and Udamjit Singh to apologise to these workers and put things right for them. Otherwise they should leave town.
  • Will you help?

If you know anything about Harjit Singh or his son Udamjit Singh, or could help in some way, email justice@oneunion.org.nz

I’d like to get our UTU bus to Tokoroa. Would you make a small koha to help get us there? Please go here.

Matt McCarten is the National Director of One Union and an UTU Trustee

24 COMMENTS

  1. Why is exploitation so easy in NZ?

    Why are we importing in people to exploit others, who also bring in people whose skills are essentially not skills at all, but working for next to nothing for exploiters?

    Another exploitation scam, our companies act, where subcontractors (and the IRD) fail to be paid for their work due to NZ’s ease of exploiting others and not having to pay people for labour here if they don’t want to.

    Construction company folds with debts near $200k after boss starts afresh
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/122894722/construction-company-folds-with-debts-near-200k-after-boss-starts-afresh

    Exploitation is not a race issue but a National issue for NZ, and it’s being escalating for 35 years and getting worse.

  2. The way to get instant action is to threaten the crooks. There would be immediate action all right, from police and other authorities protecting them and dealing with anyone even threatening to do harm.

    Meanwhile all the harm they have caused is not worthy of real attention let alone immediately.

  3. We had a similar case in Chch . The liquor group try were in cut them off but unfortunately another group,stepped in and took over . These corrupt owners should be reported and deported

  4. Kia Ora All, I sat up to midnight last night to write this article and then up at 5am to edit it. I am convinced the only way we can get justice for these two couples and another one of colleagues is if we mobilise the Tokoroa community. But to do that I need your help. I want to take the UTU bus down there. But I need about $5,000 to do that. I’ve never used Give-a-Little before. I’m rapt we have raised $2000 so far. But we need to pay our supplier (at least most of it) before I can pick the bus up next week.
    Sarah and her husband have no money. But if we can fund a leaflet with this a version of this article, they will deliver it to every home and asking locals to come to a public rally against exploitation. If I get enough money on the Give-a-Little page then we can make this happen.
    Frankly the only way we are going to get justice for these workers is if we get the Tokoroa community demanding Challenge and these two exploiters to be shame into making things write.
    if everyone who “liked” the article and chipped in $20 or so we’d reach our target easily.
    Nga Mihi

  5. If the government don’t realise by now that MBIE are just not up to the job, they never will.
    (Rome wasn’t built in a day and good things take time to fix apparently, and can kicking has become an artform)
    It (MBIE) has a few decent folk struggling against the little generically-managed feifdom that is a Mr Fixit Joyce and Coleman vanity project that can’t seem to get its priorities right no matter how many unsuccessful restructures and tinkerings it tries. Under-resourcing may be, but also structure, incompetence, egos, careerist behaviour and racism along with it – right from the outset from curvy screens to stab-proof vests!
    And its not as if people in the organisation weren’t aware that this sort of shit is, and has been going on for quite some time. And if the Ministers weren’t aware then its even worse because you (Matt) wouldn’t be the first person screaming loudly.

  6. Kind of difficult to take every detail of this article as pure fact, which doesn’t have any elements of exaggeration, when the author renames the employer “exploiter” so much in it.

    • In tough times the temptation is to always gild the lily. It would be futile to think that the recent past wasn’t a somewhat traumatic experience and it is important that everyone pull together in the same direction. The thing the government must do is try and muster all the strength of the whole country so there are no injustices if we are to prosper out of this recession.

  7. Chris, I’m sorry you find this article confronting to your sensibilities. You clearly live in a world where you find it difficult to understand fact from your ‘feelings’. Let me explain in simple terms so you can overcome your ‘difficulties’.
    The boss has already admitted he was working all his the workers excess hours outside their contracts. We have filed comprehensive evidence into the ERA and the boss has never filed a defence. In fact he offered a paltry settlement.
    We have recordings of the father and son extorting money from the workers. We have their texts. We have photos. We have rosters. His series of five lawyers abandoned his defence case. I wonder why?
    As long as people like you put your head in the sand we will never fix this problem. Actually I have the accurate word for the problem: exploitation. You should look it up. Turn your light on. Nga Mihi.

  8. why do these business migrants only employ new migrants from their own country?/Why don’t they employ native born New Zealanders?Large numbers of whom are unemployed???
    Because they are interested in using only vulnerable people. There are so many poorly run hospitality, liquor and fuel outlets in NZ due to our high levels of unnecessary immigration. It is a mess created by idiot economists to bolster our flagging economy. I am not remotely surprised by this disgusting situation. Every single one of these people should be deported and the workers should be paid what they are owed out of the bosses confiscated assets. A reminder to all Daily Blog readers that NZ ‘s population was not supposed to reach 5 million before 2030. We do no t need any of these people here.

  9. No doubt these exploiting bastards were either born here or have permanent residency or citizenship, if it one of the latter two, you have to wonder where our standards are for handing out such privileges.
    We need to be able to rescind permanent residencies and citizenships if not born here, and send these people back to where they came from. They need to know it won’t just be the people they exploit subject to deportation if found out, they will be as well.
    While it might not be about race, it sure as hell is about culture and we do not need this culture here.
    There is a good reason so many of these places are run by migrants and I think exploitation of others may be the major one.
    I make no apologies, I want it stopped, immediately. I have no sympathy for the exploiters.

  10. I have written to Challenge to see what they are doing about this. I suggest all the keyboard warriors get on their computers and start a champaign.

  11. These two should have their possessions confiscated as ‘proceeds of crime’, and then prosecuted with extreme prejudice. They exhibit zero empathy, compassion or understanding, let alone comprehend the concept of fairness. I get paid again on Wednesday, and I’ll chip in again, Matt. Keep hammering these two scumbags because they’re a cancer on society.

    • And not forgetting all the other scumbags hiding in the woodwork because they haven’t been caught up with yet. Its a shame govt dept’s reluctance, tardiness and turning a blind eye to the situation haven’t weeded them out. Then again, – in this country – ‘business’ comes first and we cant upset the ‘business people’, can we now?

  12. The good people of Tokoroa need to boycott the Challenge station. Hit these souless vampires in their pocket, it’s the only thing they care about.

  13. Absolutely! BOYCOTT CHALLENGE TOKOROA!!!
    Can’t believe with all the evidence agains them, they’re STILL operating here.
    But I must say… WHY DIDN’T THESE PEOPLE JOIN THE UNION?
    Get pissed off with people who don’t pay union fees… but expect help when the sh** hits the fan! Happens too often.
    Means they need to establish their OWN union under our Immigration visa law to protect people from this EVER happening again ANYWHERE in NZ!!!
    This isnot OK!
    Please put your protest details on Tokoroa Genuine Page so we know when to come.

    • Kia Ora Vi, Unfortunately there aren’t unions for many workers in the private sector, especially in small workplaces. Union density in the private sector is 8%. Unions have no resource to service workers outside the big employers. Unionisation outside big employers is less than 1%.
      Most workers these days don’t even know what a union is. The truth is unions don’t really want workers outside viable workplaces for resourcing capacity reasons.
      The sad reality is most vulnerable workers are on their own. Migrant workers are the most abused. But frankly the abuse is now widespread.
      We set up OneUnion this year to represent workers in small workplaces. By representing any worker who is mistreated and winning justice for them, we hope the message will get through to the worst exploiters they will be exposed and there is a union that will hound the state agencies into doing their jobs.
      We’ll let everyone know where and when the protest will be. If you can help get our truck there, please click through to our donations page. Nga Mihi.

    • Kia Ora Rishi, I am in touch with Challenge about that possible outcome. Also MTA (bosses union) contacted us yesterday about getting involved. We also have hounded MBIE. Immigration NZ and IRD to investigate. We also have to protect the workers. Often they just get deported by INZ so the crimes can be swept under the carpet. By writing about these abuses and getting attention, state agencies are taking our complaints seriously. I’m hoping as people know more and join our union we can resource up and eventually end exploitation in NZ.

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