From any point of view, there is justification for public outrage over owners of small enterprises and entrepreneurs who have been allegedly underpaying and overworking migrant workers at place of work.
It is sad to note that some owners of Indian restaurants have been exploiting students and migrant workers from India. As we were preparing this issue, news was at hand that three persons of a restaurant, arrested on a number of charges, are now on bail. Their case would be heard in the Auckland District Court as this edition hits the stands.
We have reported in our past issues that some employers have been extracting about 70 hours of work from these disparate overseas workers, paying them just $265 per week. In public view and of course the law, both are wrong. Every worker in New Zealand is entitled to the prescribed minimum wage (currently $14.75 per hour) and work no more than 40 to 48 hours a week.
People of the Indian community, especially from India are angry, not only because their good image is tarnished by such unscrupulous elements, but also because it is inhuman to exploit labour. Many of them have said that we should name, shame and boycott them.
Although reports appearing under Businesslink in this issue pose several pointers to the government, we believe that Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse deserves credit for having drafted and passed an ‘extensive Immigration Amendment Bill.’
The Bill has ushered in a series of bold steps to stem the growth of rogue employers, exploitation of migrant workers and the increasing threat of illegal immigrants orchestrated by human traffickers.
The Legislation will place erring employers at the risk of going behind bars for seven years, a fine of $100,000, with the added prospect of adverse media coverage.
However, the Bill’s threat to deport employers who have breached Labour Laws within ten years of their gaining residence in New Zealand would hardly have any teeth. This is because most employers exploiting expatriate labour are New Zealand citizens and hence cannot be asked to leave the country.
However, Mr Woodhouse assured us that New Zealand citizens who abuse or misuse migrant labourers will face the full brunt of the law, including prison term and fines.
Potential immigrants who arrive here on visit visas or those entering the country on other types of status (refugees for instance) apparently look up the yellow pages of the phone book and choose a consultant at random and entrust the job of processing their applications. In other cases, those with permanent residence status are keen to bring their family members and seek the advice of such consultants.
The real pinch
That is when the trouble starts.
Well-established and reputed consultants not only offer professional and genuine advice but also account for a high success rate in terms of enabling applicants to achieve their objective of migrating to New Zealand.
Exploitation of migrant workers and international students is nothing new in countries, which depend on migration for its economic progress. Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have laws that prescribe minimum wages, working and living conditions and rights of migrants on work permits.
Yet, they suffer in silence a variety of atrocities- working long hours, accepting less pay, often by cash, allowing their employers to evade tax and even immigration laws.
They suffer in silence to avoid loss of jobs, and worse, deportation. As mentioned earlier, most of them come from India, and most of them are exploited by employers of Indian origin.
A majority of migrant workers come to countries like New Zealand seeking a better life, just like many of us, our parents and grandparents did. They should be treated with compassion and respect.
We not only need good laws but also their effective enforcement.