NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE Tejinder and Varneet EXPLOITATION CASE
The Migrant Workers Association works in partnership with One Union. We asked Matt McCarten from One Union to represent Tejinder and Varneet in their case against Ravi Singh Samra for wage arrears, unjustified dismissals and numerous breaches of employment laws. The New Zealand Sikh Society Hamilton on Friday 15 May made some allegations on their Facebook page they know are false and are intended to intimidate Tejinder and Varneet.
Matt has agreed for his update report to be made available to supporters of the Migrant Workers Association for their information. His report follows:
I wish to update you on the case for the two workers previously employed by Mr Ravi Singh Samra.
This is important as the NZ Sikh Society Hamilton is claiming that they are in the process of suing the two victims and presumably us. This is not true. But given their comments I am happy to have this letter circulated to the supporters of the Migrant Workers Association so we can keep them informed.
Status in the Employment Relations Authority
I have already advised you earlier that we have filed personal grievances against Mr Ravi Singh Samra on 21 February. We sent it to his business addresses and emails. We followed up with various emails and phone calls. Due to lack of response from Mr Samra, we filed the matter with Employment Mediation Services on 12 March. Therefore, they sent our formal allegations to him. Mr Samra did not respond to MBIE’s emails and phone calls either. Mr Samra claims to have been trapped overseas without access to his emails. He wasn’t, of course. We have confirmed he is and has always been at his Hamilton home and spends his days at the Sikh temple in Hamilton.
After Mr Samra’s untruthfulness, we filed our case two weeks ago directly into the Employment Relations Authority. The Authority gave Mr Samra 14 days to respond to our allegations. He has not done so. If Mr Samra has not lodged a Statement of Reply by this Monday (18 May) we will ask the Authority direct the parties to a compulsory mediation, which they certainly will order. Once the Authority does that, the game is up. Mr Samra will no longer be able to hide.
I note the NZ Sikh Society claims they are taking legal steps against us, claiming the charges against Mr Samra are false. I think the fact Mr Samra has never defended the allegations in the legal forums he is required to do, exposes this nonsensical claim.
Legal Exchange with Society Lawyer
I can report that a local Hamilton law firm did send a letter to the two victims. It was a silly letter. It merely focused on the reference on the Migrant Workers Association Facebook identifying Mr Samra as the secretary of the NZ Sikh Society. I wrote back saying that it was indeed a fact that Mr Samra was the secretary of the society. As such their complaint has no legal standing. It’s clear the lawyer knows they have no claim, and was purely meant to scare the two workers. I will be raising this intentional bullying with the Authority and seek redress.
If anyone is accused of illegal behaviour, it is normal and appropriate to identify their public connections. I would have thought a serious allegation against a senior leader of the Sikh Society would be something the society leadership would be concerned about, and want to know about any such complaint. Instead they have tried to scare the victims rather than see if there is any truth that one of their leaders was robbing vulnerable people.
I have had many years dealing with lawyers who bluster. I wrote to the lawyer on Friday telling them not to waste their time with baseless threats against two exploited victims. I have no doubts, our allegations are 100% true. It is revealing that Mr Samra has not responded to us or MBIE for months. Instead he hides and it seems the NZ Sikh Society is ready to do the dirty work on his behalf. It’s very disappointing the Society’s good name is being put at risk like this.
Migrants Work Free. Claims it was Hospitality.
I am advised the Society claims in their Facebook posts, dated 13 May and 15 May, that the two victims lived free at the Temple in 2014 for two years, due to the generosity of Mr Samra. Neither of these young men were in the country until mid 2015. But, in any event, the claim deliberately misses relevant context. It was true that several students received board and lodgings at the temple, including our two clients for a time.
But, it was not free. All the students were required to work between 20-25 a week in return. This included cleaning, cooking, gardening, and manual labour. More concerning it seems is these boarders were required to work in Mr Samra’s businesses for no payment. They also were required to do personal work for some committee members.
Under New Zealand law such arrangements are illegal. The courts have required organisations who have carried out such a practice to backpay these workers for that time. I also note that the law requires those boarders to be paid at least the minimum wage for any work. Any boarding costs have to be agreed before deduction. For this work each boarder should have received about $400 each before paying board. For the society to now claim this was pure generosity, just is not true. Instead it reveals on sinister practice where it seems young vulnerable migrants are effectively trapped in servitude and are shamelessly exploited by Mr Samra in his businesses. I note Mr Samra lists the NZ Sikh Society email address as his company address with the NZ Companies Office.
To have Mr Samra’s supporters saying he was doing these workers a favour, is akin to slave masters claiming the slaves should be grateful because they are provided free board. An extreme comparison, but it makes that point that these workers weren’t guests receiving free hospitality. They were working for their food and lodging. To claim now that these two young men are ungrateful is outrageous.
Secret Meeting to Intimidate Workers to Withdrawing their Case
In addition to the above concerns I draw your attention to something else that is very concerning. Two weeks ago, senior members of the Sikh Society committee approached the two victims directly on Mr Samra’s behalf for a confidential meeting behind our backs. This was illegal. At that meeting they did not dispute the young men’s allegations, but tried to compel them to lower their claims of reimbursement. To now have these same representatives claiming the young man are liars and Mr Samra is innocent is contrary to their position at this meeting. It raises for me the wider issue of integrity of some of the society leadership. If I was a member of the NZ Sikh Society and some of the leaders were conducting themselves in this way, I would want some answers.
My sense is that Mr Samra’s history of exploitation may not just be isolated to him. As I said to the Society’s lawyer on Friday, my very strong advice is that she would be better served if she spent the next few days trying to find a constructive and fair outcome to this matter. Blustering that day is night isn’t going to work. The NZ Sikh Society has had a proud history over many years. That is now at risk. It will almost certainly unravel if the Society leadership continues to protect the actions of Mr Samra in the way they are currently doing.
I will await the Society’s lawyer communicating with me on Monday.
Matt McCarten | Secretary One Union
Advocate for Tejinder Singh and Varneet Singh