Liquor

Leaving a company with underpaid staff retaining liquor licenses ‘will erode public confidence’

Shereen Singh testifies before the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority in August 2021 in Christchurch.

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Shereen Singh testifies before the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority in August 2021 in Christchurch.

The integrity of the liquor licensing regime will be compromised if a liquor company found guilty of paying its staff less than minimum wage is allowed to retain its licenses.

This is the presentation of lawyer Karyn South in her closing remarks to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority on Thursday.

South addressed the authority on the last day of a hearing to consider a request by the Christchurch City Council Licensing Inspector and Police to revoke or suspend five unlicensed licenses held by Nekita Enterprises, and to cancel the certificate of the director of the majority shareholder and director Shereen Singh.

The hearing was held via video link due to current restrictions on the Covid-19 alert level.

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South, for the plaintiffs, said Nekita was unfit to hold liquor store licenses and that Singh was an unwelcome person to run a liquor store business.

Thing reported earlier that Singh and her husband Harjit Singh previously held equal shares in Nekita, but on July 19 Shereen Singh became the majority shareholder with 84 shares. Harjit Singh has stepped down as director of the company, but continues to own 16 shares.

Harjit Singh and Nekita were fined a combined $ 125,000 by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) last year for paying less than minimum wage to bottle shop staff and failing to keep records vital jobs. Super Liquor cut ties with Nekita after the illegality allegations came to light.

Referring to the case as being of “national importance,” South said Super Liquor was a leading franchisor who took out Nekita to its own disadvantage.

“Industry and the public can legitimately expect that [alcohol licensing] the authority to show deference and reflect Super Liquor’s position.

Harjit Singh is no longer a director of Nekita Enterprises, but remains a minority shareholder.  (File photo)

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Harjit Singh is no longer a director of Nekita Enterprises, but remains a minority shareholder. (File photo)

“Allowing such a blatantly unsuitable operator as Nekita to operate under its own banner completely undermines the integrity of the licensing regime. “

Allowing Nekita to continue operating would set a precedent that companies that did not comply with employment laws could simply hand over the responsibility of the wife of a former manager and continue to do business without getting discouraged, a she declared.

“It weakens the adequacy law and erodes public confidence in the licensing regime as a whole.”

Jonathan Eaton QC, on behalf of Nekita, said he would not go through all of his written submissions during the hearing, but raised some important points.

Eaton asked why the plaintiffs had not called any witnesses regarding Super Liquor’s decision or regarding a meeting Harjit Singh had with the franchisor’s board of directors in December 2019. He said the authority was invited to stand by. just trust the limited notes taken at this meeting by an unknown person.

Ms JD Moorhead, President Judge Kevin Kelly and Mr RS Miller listening to submissions at the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority hearing in August regarding alcohol licenses held by Nekita Enterprises.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON / Tips

Ms JD Moorhead, President Judge Kevin Kelly and Mr RS Miller listening to submissions at the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority hearing in August regarding alcohol licenses held by Nekita Enterprises.

“The notes do not exceed a full A4 page and yet [Singh] was there for an hour. You are asked to examine what a notary has recorded and to make findings on the [alleged transgressions] sufficient to cancel the licenses.

During the first two days of the hearing held last month, Shereen Singh said she was not aware of any illegalities at the time of the ERA investigation and that she trusted her husband to handle things properly.

Since taking over the company, she had appointed consultants to ensure that Nekita complied with all of her obligations, brought in an independent director to help her comply with the regulations and had promised Harjit Singh to no longer be involved in the management of the company.

South said such a venture meant little because it was not enforceable, and Shereen Singh was also not fit to lead Nekita.

“Although she said she was disappointed with Harjit Singh’s conduct, she regularly downplayed and downplayed the seriousness of his conduct.”

South said Shereen Singh had made no effort to become more actively involved in payroll and the list, even after learning about her husband’s illegal practices.

Kerry Cook, on behalf of Shereen Singh, said her client has made many positive changes since taking control of Nekita.

He urged the authority to avoid confusing Harjit Singh’s actions with those of his wife and to base its decision on evidence rather than presumptions.

The authority reserved its decision.

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