Last year, Anil Verma was broke, desperate and being threatened with deportation.
He fought back against his employer, fibre installation company S-Net Technologies, taking a case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).
Immigration NZ backed away from a threat to deport him, allowing him to stay in New Zealand while fighting his case.
This month, almost a year after lodging his claim, Anil Verma won. The ERA has ordered S-Net Technologies to pay him over $75,000, upholding Verma’s claims on every count.
ERA authority member Vicki Campbell ruled S-Net Technologies must pay Verma $32,471 in unpaid wages, $5407 for missing holiday pay and $6103 for unlawful deductions from his wages.
S-Net was also instructed to pay $10,320 for unfair dismissal and $15,000 in compensation. There were additional penalties of $5000 against the company, and $2000 personally against S-Net’s sole director and shareholder, Shepherd Ndarowa.
The ERA declared Ndarowa “aided and abetted” the breaches, which gives Verma’s advocate, Nathan Santesso, a rare legal pathway to pursue him personally for the money, if S-Net Technologies is liquidated.
Santesso said he was confident he would be able to recoup most of the money. The award was significant for its size, and the rare permission to personally pursue a director, Santesso said.
But Verma was less upbeat, saying he feared Ndarowa, originally from Zimbabwe, might skip the country. “I don’t know what will happen next,” he said. “I’m not confident [he will pay]. The ERA has made this declaration, but still I don’t think he is taking it seriously.”
Verma has been unable to work for 18 months as his visa remains tied to S-Net. Employers were reluctant to commit to transferring a tied work visa and appealed to Immigration to give him an open work visa on compassionate grounds.
Verma has survived on the earnings of his wife, Sujarta, a beautician, and support from migrant and community groups – and Stuff readers – after speaking out in October 2019 about his treatment.
Verma worked for S-Net between April 2017 and March 2019, installing fibre internet on contracts which stipulated a minimum 80-hour working fortnight. But he said he was often left sitting at home, despite pleading for work, and would sometimes get as little as ten hours’ work a week.
Campbell’s ruling said Ndarowa claimed Verma was repeatedly absent from work, but she rejected that evidence as unreliable, and said it was more likely they were days when Verma was “simply not offered work”.
The decision said Ndarowa acknowledged making mistakes and conceded he’d not given Verma his contracted hours of work.
It said Ndarowa also admitted clawing back money from Verma by requiring him to repay the difference between his contracted hourly rate – at one stage $21.50 – and the minimum wage, then $15.50.
Verma was also told to pay for advertisements for his own job – some $280 – needed to prove there were no suitable New Zealanders available for the work before renewing his visa.