Fresh allegations amid investigations into migrant exploitation at Metrolanes Auckland bowling alley

By Lincoln Tan of

Metrolanes bowling alley

The Labour Inspectorate says its investigations into alleged worker exploitation at Metrolanes Auckland bowling alley remain ongoing as further complaints surface.

Herve Raoul Nguegang, the bowling alley’s technician who is originally from Cameroon, is alleging that the company was unlawfully deducting and withholding part of his salary as a way of “controlling and enslaving” him.

A spokesman for Metrolanes said the deducted amounts of about $7000 so far were for unpaid rent and the total amount of $24,000 will be reimbursed back to the employee after he has served two years of his contract.

This follows an earlier complaint by another employee, Korean national Gyeong Yun Yi, who alleged he was forced to sign a “back-deal contract” that also included a $250 weekly deduction for an accommodation fee.

Simon Humphries, head of Labour Inspectorate, said an investigation into alleged worker exploitation at Metrolanes Bowling Alley is ongoing.

“As this is an active investigation, we cannot provide any further comment,” Humphries said.

Nguegang said he was working in Dubai when he saw the advertisement for a bowling technician placed by Metrolanes online for the position.

“When I got in touch with them, they offered me free accommodation and said the job would also give me a pathway to New Zealand residence,” Nguegang said.

“They made it sound so attractive, which was why I decided to come because I thought this was where I could start a new life for me and my family from Cameroon.

“But now I’ve found that none of it is true.”

Nguegang was employed through the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme and arrived in New Zealand on 23 September last year.

He started working at Metrolanes two days later at a rate of $29.66 gross per hour.

However when he arrived, Nguegang said he was made to sign a separate accommodation agreement stipulating that he had to pay $250 per week to stay at a property attached to the garage of the company’s chairman James Kwak’s home.

The contract stated: “Once Herve finished his work for National Holdings Limited for two years, then James will give a bonus of $24,000 to Herve.”

“I was already here, so what could I do, I didn’t have a choice but to sign it,” Nguegang said.

Two months ago, Nguegang said his mother fell seriously ill back in Cameroon and needed urgent medical treatment.

He wrote to Kwak saying he was struggling to manage financially and asked for the deducted sums to be released.

“It’s hard for me and I would be devastated if eventually, anything happens to [my mother] due to lack of treatment,” Nguegang said.

Nguegang said his pleas and requests to the company were ignored.

“Knowing how much I need this money, I feel that they are withholding it as a way of controlling me and enslaving me to the company, making sure I can’t leave,” Nguegang said.

But Josep Choi, Kwak’s executive personal assistant, said the accommodation provided was “a premium benefit provided by James”.

“As [Nguegang] was travelling from Cameroon, it was a thoughtful gesture provided by James to provide accommodation,” Choi said in a statement.

“The house is estimated with the rent value of $500 a week but instead James gave premium to as low as $250 which include free water and internet.”

Choi said the deduction of $7000 had occurred as “the employee has not paid rent over four months”.

“To go in detail, the accommodation agreement states that he will pay $250 per week for two years and the total of $24,000 will be reimbursed back to him,” Choi said.

Choi also denied any wrongdoing against Lee, the first complainant whose “tenure with the company has been marked by negligence, causing disruptions”.

He said his boss is an Australian citizen but continues to provide “sustenance and employment for about 100 individuals” here.

“Amid a city in turmoil and a deteriorating economy leading to business closures, he still carries the weight to save Metrolanes despite its precarious financial state with huge loss just to save the economy of New Zealand,” Choi said.

“Hope this would be recognised.”

The AEWV is the main temporary work visa in New Zealand, which is partly designed to help combat migrant exploitation by ensuring only accredited employers can hire migrant workers.

As of 17 April, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has received 2736 complaints against accredited employers.

There are currently 212 active investigations, and so far 255 employers have had their accreditation revoked and 82 suspended.

A further 42 employers are under assessment to have their accreditation revoked and one for suspension.

– This story was first published by the New Zealand Herald

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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