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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order cracking down on wage theft and health hazards in nail salons on Monday following revelations of widespread malpractice throughout the industry.

The Democrat state governor said an multi-agency task force would "move immediately to prevent unlawful practices and unsafe working conditions in the nail salon industry."

Cuomo's move followed a two-part New York Times expose on the illegal and dangerous exploitation of immigrant workers.

The Times said it was the start of an effort to reshape an industry rampant with exploitation that has been a major entry point into the city's economy for immigrants, particularly Asians and Hispanics.

Cheap manicures are a mainstay for many New York women, not least in some of Manhattan wealthiest neighborhoods where women are known for their ultra-sleek, groomed appearances.

The Times investigation interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage and are sometimes not even paid.

It detailed common practice for workers to pay for a job, embark on unpaid apprenticeships for weeks or months and wages as low as $10 a day.

Workers have tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions and are subject to constant video monitoring by owners and even physical abuse.

Cuomo said he would introduce new health and safety regulations for nail salons, recover unpaid wages, shut down unlicensed businesses and revoke operating licenses for the egregious offenders.

Workers will be required to wear gloves and face masks, and fans will be introduced to reduce exposure to chemical fumes in nail products, which the Times linked to leukemia and fetal defects.

Salons will be forced to post signs in multiple languages that stipulate workers' rights, including the right to full wages.

"We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights," Cuomo said.

The measures will "help ensure that no one, regardless of their citizenship status or what language they speak, is illegally victimized by their employer," he said.

According to the Times, the average cost of a manicure in Manhattan is just $10.50 with the countrywide average almost double that.

The paper said the number of salons in New York City has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

In May 2014, the state department of labor investigated 29 nail salons and found 116 violations of state law.

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