PAID $300 A WEEK FOR 70 HOURS OVER 5 YEARS. THREATENED WHEN SEEKING BACKPAY.
A boss who exploited a chef for over 5 years, owing tens of thousands of dollars, is accused of sending goons to threaten the victim when he asked for his money. .
Monty Patel, the owner of the famous Wellington chain of Tulsi cafes, and the popular Masala Restaurant and Bar. The Tulsi cafes have been voted consistently one of Wellington’s top restaurant chains. Even Lonely Planet recommends them.
Yet at least one worker has been feeding the Wellington dining crowd on slave wages. For most of the past 5 years this chef was required to work 70 hour a week and paid only $300 a week – an average $4.28 an hour. The employment agreements show 40 hours a week. However tax records show the chef was paid for an average of 22 hours.
The chef (we don’t use victim’s names) was sponsored by Patel, to come to New Zealand as his employee in May 2016. For the first three months, the chef was expected, as an act of reciprocity, to work free. Which he did.
Over the next years the chef was required to work for 50 hours a week in the Tulsi café on Cuba Street and then an additional 20 hours in the Tulsi Miramar preparation plant. It seems the chef received no holiday pay or other minimum standards.
In addition the chef had to pay a ‘job premium’ of close to $20,000 in several instalments. This was channelled through intermediaries in New Zealand and overseas.
BOSS ADMITS TO UNPAID WAGES
After years of this abusive behaviour the victim finally had enough. After raising his grievance with Patel, the two met 3 weeks ago at the Masala Indian Café, also owned by Patel. The chef was told by Patel to leave his cell-phone and jacket outside.
In this meeting, the chef told Patel, he was owed $128,000 in unpaid wages. He says Patel agreed he was owed money. He offered $42,000 as a full and final confidential settlement. This was unacceptable to the victim.
UNION STEPS IN
The chef quit the job, left Wellington and contacted us for help.
I wrote to Patel outlining the claim and advising him to settle the matter quickly and fairly. We also instructed Patel and his lawyer not to contact the chef. Our experience is exploiters always approach and intimidate their victims. We overcome this, by making one condition for workers we help – that they agree to phone us immediately if they are contacted directly or indirectly by the boss.
Patel’s lawyer responded within a day claiming there was nothing to see here. She even produced wage records. Of course it’s standard practice for exploiters to make their victims sign false records. That’s because when a boss sacks the worker, Immigration NZ issues deportation orders against the worker within 14 days. Every migrant knows this, so they do whatever do the boss says.
Fortunately in this case, we have solid electronic evidence of the chef’s claims.
THUGS STANDOVER VICTIM AT HOME
Within two days of my conversation with the lawyer, the chef is contacted by a friend, saying he was concerned and wanted to visit him to see how he was coping. The chef gave him his home address in confidence.
A few hours later, two men arrived at the chef’s home after travelling from Wellington. The leading thug was a relation of Monty Patel and said he spoke for him. The speaker said the offer was now $80,000 conditional on the chef dropping the union from representing him. If the chef did not immediately agree, he would be deported. The chef was frightened and secretly phone us whilst they were still there. Once they realised that, they quickly departed.
I immediately called Patel’s lawyer, who weakly claimed that she and her client knew nothing about this visit. When pushed, she disengaged, and referred me directly to her client who of course went into hiding. Interestingly, within hours of this call $5,529 was deposited into the chef’s bank account without explanation. It’s a start.
THE CALL FOR JUSTICE
We must and will pursue this case against Monty Patel.
But the so-called Employment Authority system in this country is an outrage. They let exploiters cynically use lawyers to delay and frustrate justice. Their strategy is that the victim can’t afford legal costs, and get so distressed and scared they give up and drop the case – or settle for a few crumbs on the condition that agree to keep this criminal behaviour confidential. This whole rotten system is complicit in this abuse. This has allowed exploitation to boom in this country unchecked.
To get justice for this chef, Wellingtonians must directly hold this exploiter accountable. Here’s four links you can click immediately.
- Sign our petition online (prosecute criminal exploiters)
- Share this article (expose crimes)
- Donate (support our work)
- Join the UTU squad (hold a placard)
If anyone knows anything about Monty Patel that could help us, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
MONTY PATEL (aka Mahendrakumar Ghelabhai Patel)
Businesses: PARL LIMITED No.3691638 est. 2012. Operates five Wellington TUSLI CAFES and MASALA INDIAN CAFÉ & BAR in Allen St.
Address: 15 Landsdowne Terrace, Karori.
Phone: 021 775 001
Matt McCarten is National Director of UTU For Workers Union