Migrant workers take employer to ERA over exploitation claims

Migrant workers take employer to ERA over exploitation claims

Norajane Colos looks happy but some of her workers are not.

Norajane Colos looks happy but some of her workers are not.

Auckland company E-Advance Ltd is being taken to the Employment Relations Authority by five staff migrant workers who claim they have been exploited. The workers claim they were not paid wages, had to ‘invest’in the company and some ended up living in the company offices because they could not afford to pay for accommodation.

These are not manual workers brought into New Zealand to work in horticulture. They are educated young people, some of whom feature on the E-Advance website as staff with grand titles such as ‘Head of South Asian Department’. Among the myriad of services that E-Advance offers is a job finding scheme for migrants.

It is alleged E-Advance charged workers between $500 and $9000 to invest in it – a charge invoiced as “capital infusion” – with the understanding the money would be repaid as wages.

This is a scheme sometimes used by migrant workers as proof of employment to gain permanent residency. The employer returns the money to the workers and pays the tax portion to the Government.

However, it is alleged the company did not pay the salaries or taxes, causing “emotional and psychological stress” to the workers.

Norajane Colos, managing director of the company, says she has done “nothing wrong”. Ms Colos said she would co-operate with the investigation, but said the complainants had “begged” her for the jobs they needed to support their application for permanent residence, and were fully aware the sums they paid were not capital infusion but payment for training.

Staff claim they were allegedly asked to provide misleading information to clients regarding the status of the company and their visa status was threatened.

The Labour Inspectorate has began an investigation into E-Advance after a meeting with its staff and their union representatives last week.

“I can confirm the inspectorate is investigating the company’s systems and practices around compliance with employment standards and will take enforcement action in response to identified breaches,” said inspectorate Northern Manager David Milne.

The two staff, who have been living at the office for two months, told the NZ Herald they had stayed there with the approval of Ms Colos, who told them they were not allowed to go out after 6.00pm because the building alarms were armed.

They said they had no access to a shower or kitchen, and survived on mainly fruit and instant noodles for dinner.

It was also alleged that employees were subjected to “various degrees of humiliation” – from abusive emails to being put down at staff meetings – if they did not work fulltime without pay.

Migrant workers union, Unemig, which alerted authorities to the workers’ plight, described the allegations as “shocking”.

Co-ordinator Dennis Maga said he was not aware of any previous cases where employees were found living in their employer’s office.


E-Advance looks like a company that has started with the best of intentions but has spread itself it too many directions without mastering any of the strands of its business. In this type of environment promises will be made that will never be met. A lack of structure and resources will come home to roost in the end because the recipients of those promises will be driven to act out of desperation. The E-Advance website presents a competent façade with smiling faces, multiple services and ‘testimonials’. That is the trickery that the internet can offer in today’s business environment – the illusion of substance. There are not too many major businesses that have hotmail addresses for their email contact info.

It looks as though E-Advance is going for a skate on this one. Government agencies, the ERA and Unions are lining up to have a go. I don’t see malice behind E-Advance’s actions – just a complete inability to deliver on their promises and admit when they cannot live up to their own hype.

Providing services to assist migrants to New Zealand is a serious business. They are channelling the hopes and dreams of people looking for a brighter future. I hope E-Advance receives the full weight of the law to serve as a warning to other individuals who think exploiting new comers to New Zealand and government agencies who provide funding is a viable business model. There is something disturbing about migrants exploiting migrants.

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