Says he was forced to work 12 hours a day for little pay
By Erica Pearson, New York Daily News | Tuesday, search April 3, 2012, 10:14 AM
A Nepali kitchen assistant says his Long Island restaurant bosses made him live with other workers in an isolated basement room so he could toil for as many as 21 days in a row.
“It was hidden. It was behind the curtains. I was being exploited,” Rabin Kumar Biswokarma said on Monday in announcing a lawsuit against Masala Wok & Grill in Selden and the restaurant’s owners, Shivaji Pathak and Tony Malik.
Biswokarma, who lives in Queens, says when he was hired at Masala last summer, the owners promised him $500 a week.
They said he would have to move near the restaurant if he took the job, but that they would provide a comfortable room.
“I was there with a dream,” he said.
Instead, he toiled for as many as 12 hours a day for weeks without a day off, chopping meat and vegetables.
His bosses gradually lowered the amount they paid each week, giving him $100 some weeks and then cutting off payment altogether, he said.
He says the owners told him to keep working after he cut his hand with a kitchen knife.
He lived with four other Masala staffers in a basement apartment with little ventilation, he said, often leaving only to go to the restaurant.
Calls to Masala went unanswered Monday. Pathak did not return a call requesting comment. Malik could not be reached.
After weeks with no pay, Biswokarma decided to leave last October — deciding it was better to be out on the street than stuck working as a virtual slave.
“After I left that job, I was almost homeless,” he said. “I stayed with different friends.”
Desperate to get what he was owed, Biswokarma went to Woodside non-profit Adhikaar for help.
Executive director Luna Ranjit says Biswokarma’s story is all too common in the emerging Nepali immigrant community.
“We’ve heard hundreds of these stories,” she said.
His suit, filed last week, alleges state and federal labor violations, including unpaid wages and no overtime. He is represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“We believe these restaurant owners intentionally lure vulnerable workers with false promises of dignified work, and then isolate them in remote locations to extract their labor,” said Biswokarma’s lawyer, Shirley Lin.
“They must be held accountable.”