Bill to end exploitation of foreign workers

They have been bullied, abused, paid a pittance, treated like slaves and kept as bonded labour.

Though exploiting migrant workers is rampant in most countries, it comes as a shock when it happens in New Zealand, a peaceful country of immigrants that has fiercely guarded its integrity.

All New Zealanders are migrants and many of them have their successive generations born and raised in New Zealand.

We have heard many horror stories of migrant workers being held at gun point, kicked around and exploited by unscrupulous employers.

Silent sufferers

Sadly, these exploited workers are afraid to fight back or speak up, remaining at the mercy of ruthless employers who threaten to send them back to their country of origin.

Most of these crimes go unreported as the atrocities meted out are buried under the debris of fear and insecurity in a foreign country.

The Immigration Amendment Bill (No 2) which had its first reading in Parliament on November 19, 2013, will hopefully become law and enable the concerned officials to crackdown on the offenders.

Parliament has referred the Bill to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee.

The Government is taking tough action to tackle the issue. The message is loud and clear that migrant exploitation will not be tolerated in New Zealand. Everyone needs to understand that migrant workers have the same employment rights and protections as all other workers in New Zealand.

Under the Bill, employers who exploit migrant workers will face a jail sentence of up to seven years and/or fine not exceeding $100,000, or both.

Migrant employers could also face deportation if the offence was committed within 10 years of gaining residence.

Protecting rights

The Bill not only ensures the protection of migrant workers from exploitation but also enables immigration officers to have the powers they need to enforce the Act.

It will open doors for use of electronic systems to help immigration officers to trace the identities of migrant workers.

The Bill suggests changes in the way biometric information is collected to enable faster identification process. The amendment will allow the Immigration Minister to serve notices electronically and use of electronic communications in Immigration and Protection Tribunal proceedings.

Search warrants

It will also extend the powers of immigration officers to search employers’ premises and talk to the people present to identify offending by employers. They will be allowed to search for unlawful workers, check documents and ensure migrant employees are complying with the Act.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said that the Bill would allow immigration officers to keep an eagle eye on the borders by giving them the power to undertake a personal search at the border.

This will enable immigration officers to identify passengers who have concealed their identity documents. They would be allowed to search a property to facilitate deportation. This would give them the leeway to search for unlawful workers, check documents and interview employees to ascertain whether the employers are complying with the laws in force.

In an attempt to reduce the fear factor, the Immigration minister has urged migrants to speak up so that INZ can help them.

He sees this as an important step in the right direction, particularly in the context of re-building Canterbury and the role of migrant workers who need protection from callous employers who may arm-twist migrant workers to accept below minimum employment standards.

Saif Shaikh is of Director Immigration Advice NZ Limited based in Auckland. He can be contacted on (09) 2724424 Email: saif@ianzl.co.nz; website www.immigrationadvicenz.com

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