'Slave' unlikely to get paid

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2014
Jamal Zaytoun
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ
SHORT CHANGED: Jamal Zaytoun outside the Newtown computer store where he used to work. The company he worked for has ceased trading.

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A Wellington worker who claims he was treated like a slave has been awarded more than $83,000 in unpaid wages, but is unlikely to see a cent.

Jamal Zaytoun began working for Newtown computer store Bit Technology in 2010. He claimed that, for three years, he was paid less than the minimum wage, sometimes receiving as little as $80 a week.

The Employment Relations Authority agreed, and ordered Bit Technology, owned by Mohammad Khan, to pay up. Bit Technology has ceased trading and two new companies, with new directors, have been formed to continue running the Newtown store and another branch in Lower Hutt. Khan remains as an employee.

Under current law, the penalties are tied to Bit Technology, rather than Khan, meaning Zaytoun would have to take an expensive private prosecution to try to recover the money he is owed.

Zaytoun's lawyer, Ross Jamieson, believes his client's situation is an example of how workers can be exploited by bosses, who then run the company down to avoid penalties.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is aware of the problems of migrant worker exploitation, and of the difficulty of extracting penalties from companies with no assets, and is working to address them.

Khan answered the phone at the Lower Hutt store yesterday, but declined to comment.

Speaking to The Dominion Post, Zaytoun - who emigrated to New Zealand from Syria in 1997 - said he met Khan and his brother in 2008, and the three became friends.

When Zaytoun left his previous job, he spent six months volunteering at Bit Technology until he was offered a job by Khan. For the next few years, he worked for minimal pay, accepting excuses from Khan about why he was not being paid correctly.

When assurances of a share in the company came to nothing, Zaytoun eventually left and took his case to the authority.

"I was naive, no doubt, but I always had loyalty to him, being a fellow Muslim, and never thought he would think of me as a slave."

Zaytoun believes Khan ran Bit Technology down to avoid having to pay him the money awarded by the authority.

In his decision, authority member Paul Stapp found that Zaytoun was employed by Bit Technology, rather than by Khan personally.

Nobody appeared before the authority on behalf of Bit Technology, and Stapp agreed with Zaytoun's claim he had worked 57 hours a week. Alongside $83,054 in lost wages, he ruled Zaytoun was also entitled to $921 in holiday pay and $5000 in compensation.

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Stapp declined to enforce penalties for breaches of the Employment Relations and Minimum Wage acts as the company was no longer trading, and because it would cause an "unacceptable cost" for the Crown to chase money that would never be recovered.

- The Dominion Post

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