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'Ripped off': Kebab staff worked without pay before dinner shifts

Tracy Neal,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 May 2024, 9:18pm
Zara's Turkish Kebabs in Richmond, where three workers were left $30,000 out of pocket. Photo / Google Maps
Zara's Turkish Kebabs in Richmond, where three workers were left $30,000 out of pocket. Photo / Google Maps

'Ripped off': Kebab staff worked without pay before dinner shifts

Tracy Neal,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 May 2024, 9:18pm

Workers at a kebab cafe who weren’t paid for food preparation shifts between lunch and dinner have been awarded almost $31,000 in unpaid wages.

And, the business that employed them and one of its company directors have also been ordered to pay $27,000 in penalties.

The workplace breaches, spanning four years, were described by the Labour Inspectorate as an employer having “ripped off” its workers.

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered Mirac Limited, trading as Zara’s Turkish Kebabs and Cafe in Richmond, near Nelson, to pay $30,886 in wage arrears, holiday pay and interest to three employees left out of pocket when they weren’t paid for the work they did preparing meats, salads and sauces ready for the evening dinner shift.

Additionally, Mirac has been ordered to pay $18,000 in penalties to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment for workplace breaches including failing to pay the minimum wage and maintaining proper wages and time records and shareholder in the business, Omer Akbaba, acting as an owner/operator must also pay an additional penalty of $9000.

Head of Labour Inspectorate, Simon Humphries condemned the actions as worker exploitation and that Akbaba was “ripping them off and gained from their free labour”.

When approached for comment, Akbaba told NZME that in all the time he had been involved in the business he had always conducted it in accordance with New Zealand law and based on the advice of his accountants.

He felt the New Zealand legal system had let him down by accepting the three employees’ words as fact and that he had never tried to cheat any of my employees.

“I have consistently worked to ensure fair treatment for everyone I have worked with or employed,” he said.

The authority said in its decision this month that the three workers performed a wide range of duties related to the restaurant’s operation, each working six days a week.

It found that Akbaba had the three employees work the “middle shift” between the busy lunch and dinner services, but did not pay them for the hours worked.

Akbaba admitted that he hired the workers; set their terms and conditions; trained them and directed their work.

He also set their hours and completed the timesheets to be forwarded to his accountant for payment.

The timesheets indicated they had worked the lunch and dinner shift, but neglected to include the time spent preparing meats, salads and sauces for the dinner service.

This meant they were not paid for several hours each day, and therefore did not receive the wages they were owed or their associated holiday pay.

The employees had noted that the timesheets were not accurate, that they signed them blank and they were later completed by Akbaba, examples of which were provided by one of the workers to the Labour Inspector for MBIE, which brought the matter before the ERA.

In his decision, authority member Michael Loftus said Akbaba accepted that he sometimes provided the timesheets blank and filled these in himself, but that was contrary to what he had told the Inspector early in her investigation.

“He said this was to protect himself,” Loftus said.

He said that the matter had a long history with an initial statement of problem lodged in November 2018.

By the time the second amended statement of problem was lodged in September 2020, the claims were that the first respondent (Mirac), being the former employer of three employees, had failed to pay the minimum wage for all hours worked, hadn’t paid correct holiday pay, and failed to keep accurate wage, time and holiday records.

Loftus said the “multiplicity of breaches” warranted some form of penalty after he found “each and every one” of the breaches alleged had occurred.

He said there has been no attempt to remedy or mitigate the breaches concerning minimum wages and comment had been made about the fact the employees were, originally, migrant workers.

“They are inherently vulnerable, particularly because they were unfamiliar with New Zealand laws and regulations,” he said.

Humphries said the penalties and arrears ordered should serve as a warning to anyone who might consider short-changing or exploiting their workers.

“This company and its owners showed a blatant disregard for their obligations as employers and, as a result, must now pay the consequences,” he said.

Akbaba said he had considered appealing the decision but due to “exorbitant lawyer costs” the more affordable option was to accept the decision.

Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.

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