A former waitress at the Masala Indian restaurant chain claims she was strangled, punched and offered money for sex by a co-worker - and that immigrant staff were exploited.
Jacinda Moore, 19, who worked at Masala's Titirangi, Auckland, branch for three years, came forward after the Sunday Star-Times revealed the restaurant chain was being investigated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
It is understood 13 workers have complained about their conditions, including being paid as little as $265 a week for 70 hours - less than $4 an hour - and not receiving leave entitlements.
Moore claims she never received a proper employment contract, pay slips or holiday pay.
Local MP David Cunliffe helped push the investigation along, writing to the ministry's chief executive to say he had grave concerns about the allegations and pointing out the ministry appeared not to be acting on the complaint.
Although the ministry initially investigated Moore's complaint, it was not progressed because the allegations formed part of a personal grievance she lodged with the Employment Relations Authority.
That personal grievance cannot be investigated further because the company she worked for has gone into liquidation, although Masala continues to operate under different companies.
Moore claimed that in the first year she started work at the restaurant she discovered the Indian workers were being paid between $250 and $300 a week, while she and other New Zealanders were on the then minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.
Moore also claims she was harassed by a chef at the restaurant who sent her texts offering her up to $1000 an hour for sex. He eventually strangled and punched her after a heated exchange in a parking lot and was arrested.
Moore claims her employer did nothing to remove the chef from the restaurant - despite complaints - until after he was arrested. Her former employer denies that.
Another former employee at the restaurant, who did not want to be named, said he left after standover tactics were used to treat staff "worse than dogs".
"These guys were scared sh...... I've personally seen grown men cry, the way that they abuse you and scream at you," he said.
There are also concerns about the involvement in the business of convicted kidnapper Rupinder Singh Chahil, who was jailed for 18 months after kidnapping and beating two workers at his Curry and Spice restaurant in 2009.
Chahil, now a bankrupt, has previously given his address as the Mission Bay Masala and was described by sources as a "project manager" for the chain.
Moore said that at one point Chahil spoke to her directly about her complaints, saying he would "sort it out".
A spokesperson for the Masala chain denied Chahil was involved in the business, and also denied that anyone had used standover tactics against staff.
The spokesperson said paperwork detailing employees' wages and timesheets had been handed to the ministry. The parties are set to undergo mediation, but it is not clear when that will happen.
DISCLAIMER: Masala Restaurant in Wellington is not associated with the restaurant chain in Auckland and is not being investigated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
None of the companies associated with the Auckland Masala chain actually use Masala in their company name.
- Sunday Star Times