ZB ZB
Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Listen to NAME OF STATION
Up next
Listen live on
ZB

Allegations of migrant exploitation at bowling alley

Author
Lincoln Tan,
Publish Date
Fri, 15 Mar 2024, 7:46am
Metrolanes Bowling Alley is being investigated by the Labour Inspectorate following complaints of migrant exploitation. Photo / Dean Purcell
Metrolanes Bowling Alley is being investigated by the Labour Inspectorate following complaints of migrant exploitation. Photo / Dean Purcell

Allegations of migrant exploitation at bowling alley

Author
Lincoln Tan,
Publish Date
Fri, 15 Mar 2024, 7:46am

The Labour Inspectorate has launched an investigation into a central Auckland bowling alley business following allegations of migrant exploitation.  

Migrant workers employed under the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme at Metrolanes Bowling Alley at the SkyWorld Entertainment Centre alleged they were made to sign “under the table” agreements to accept salaries below the minimum wage, and were forced to live in the home of the employer.  

Simon Humphries, head compliance and enforcement, Labour Inspectorate at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) confirmed the inspectorate was investigating the business following complaints. 

“However, as this is an active investigation we cannot provide any further comment on this case,” Humphries said. 

“The Labour Inspectorate takes the protection of migrant workers seriously and we will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in migrant exploitation.” 

The owner of the business, James Kwak, the sole director of National Holdings Limited trading as Metrolanes, did not respond to the Herald’s request for comments. 

Metrolanes Bowling Alley is the subject of a Labour Inspectorate investigation following allegations of migrant exploitation. Photo / Dean PurcellMetrolanes Bowling Alley is the subject of a Labour Inspectorate investigation following allegations of migrant exploitation. Photo / Dean Purcell 

In one complaint to MBIE sighted by the Herald, Gyeong Yun Yi, an employee from Korea, claimed he was forced to accept a “back-deal contract” after initially being offered an employment agreement for $30 an hour. 

“The reason to make another employment agreement is that he has an intention to pay less than the wage on employment agreement which was presented to Immigration NZ,” Yi alleged in his complaint. 

To hire a migrant worker under the AEWV scheme, the employee must be paid at least $29.66 an hour unless there was an exemption through a sector agreement which Metrolanes did not have. 

A support person for Yi said he was paid less than the minimum required amount to support his AEWV visa and also had other deductions from his salary by the company. 

“I have to sign on the accommodation agreement that I should live at [a property address in] Parnell owned by James Kwak... he is still living there with other migrant employees,” Yi wrote in his email to the Labour Inspectorate. 

Yi said he was uncomfortable about living with his boss but claimed he was told it was a non-negotiable term of his employment. He claimed that each week, $250 was deducted from his pay for the accommodation. 

“I could not endure all the pressure and stress from the company and have no option but to submit my resignation,” Yi said. 

Minister for Immigration Erica Stanford. Photo / by Alex BurtonMinister for Immigration Erica Stanford. Photo / by Alex Burton 

This latest case of alleged exploitation comes shortly after the release of an independent review into the AEWV scheme by the Public Service Commission led by Jenn Bestwick. 

Multiple reports have been made about migrant workers coming under the scheme ending up destitute and jobless after paying large sums of money to relocate to New Zealand. 

The review found that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) did not adequately assess the risk and impact the changes to speed up processing times would have on visa abuse. 

MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain acknowledged the seriousness of the issues raised in the review. 

As at March 1, INZ has approved 110,573 AEWV applications, and there are 33,143 accredited employers. 

MBIE has received 2235 complaints against accredited employers, and there are currently 178 active investigations under way. A total of 165 have had their accreditation revoked and 61 suspended, and 46 are under assessment to have their accreditation revoked. 

On February 28, Immigration Minister Erica Stanford told reporters she planned to bring proposals for immediate changes to the scheme to Cabinet which she said is “still around two to three weeks away”. 

“While I can’t give details of what it contains, I do want to state that the exploitation of migrants is unacceptable, and we will be making changes that tighten the entry criteria to New Zealand on this visa,” Stanford said. 

“Unfortunately, we will likely continue to see cases of exploitation coming to light as the Accredited Employer Work Visa which began in 2022 was far too open and that is why change is needed.” 

The Labour Inspectorate encourages anyone who thinks they, or someone else, is being exploited in the workplace to contact them confidentially on 0800 200088 or make a report through the reporting migrant exploitation webpage. 

Lincoln Tan, a Multimedia Journalist for New Zealand’s Herald, specialises in covering stories around diversity and immigration. 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you