The Government may deport employers who exploit migrant workers and international students, cheating them of their minimum wages and forcing them to work under inhuman conditions, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said.
“The Government is concerned about the exploitation of migrant labour, and discussing with the Justice Ministry, Labour Department and Immigration New Zealand (INZ) on the most effective way of addressing the menace,” he said.
Mr Woodhouse was speaking to the officials of the New Zealand Indian Central Association at his office in Wellington on June 6.
Simon Smith, who is taking charge as Immigration Manager at the Delhi office of INZ on July 15 (currently he is Strategic Project Manager Immigration) and Immigration Policy Manager Christine Hyndman were present at the meeting to assist the Minister.
President Harshad Patel, Vice-President Bhikhu Bhana, Secretary Prakash Biradar and Past President Ratilal Champaneri represented NZICA.
According to Mr Woodhouse, exploitation of migrant labour was predominant among employers not born in New Zealand and those who had arrived in recent years.
“People who have been in the country even for 10 years are subject to deportation. This is still in the discussion phase but the Government needs to send a clear signal out to the public,” he said.
Indian restaurant chain
His comments came on the face of an on-going investigation of a complaint against the owner of an Indian restaurant chain, as reported in our June 15, 2013.
However, we understand that most of the employers have become New Zealand citizens, renouncing their Indian passports since the Indian Government does not allow dual citizens. Deportation therefore would not be an available option.
Labour Inspectorate Northern Manager David Milne said that the Business, Innovation & Employment Ministry had filed action with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) against the owner of the restaurant.
The Ministry has complained that the company was paying less than $4 an hour (against the minimum wage of $13.75 per hour), overworking migrant workers (up to 70 hours a week), failure to maintain wage, time, holiday and leave records and failure to submit them within the specified time to the Inspectorate.
Mr Milne said that 15 companies associated with the restaurant chain were involved and that each faced a maximum penalty of $20,000 in respect of each failure to comply under the Employment Relations Act
“The ERA action was a first step but if breaches are found to have occurred, further enforcement action is likely to follow, including improvement or demand notices, financial penalties or court action,” he said.
Exploitation of workers is not welcome and breaches New Zealand law, he added.
“The Labour Inspectorate will not hesitate to enforce and prosecute breaches of minimum employment standards such as minimum wage and holiday entitlements.”
Migrant workers, including international students or any one with genuine information on workforce exploitation can contact 0800-209020.
Mr Woodhouse said he was sorry about such exploitation occurring in New Zealand, which otherwise has a clean record.
“Employer abuse of the system is completely unacceptable and there will be consequences. We encourage exploited workers to speak out and we will make all efforts to protect them,” he said.
Students from India
Answering Mr Champaneri’s question regarding delays in processing student visa applications in Delhi, Mr Smith said that the high number of fraudulent cases discovered in India would affect processing time.
“We are working with Australia, Canada, US and UK on this issue. While there is a great opportunity for New Zealand to export education, we have to weigh risk against facilitation,” he said.
Mr Woodhouse acknowledged the frustration caused by delays but explained the practical difficulties in accepting or rejecting applications.
“It is always easy to say ‘No,’ but the ‘Yes’ answer takes time. The need to identify good agents in the education sector is a problem. We are working with the Education Ministry to handle the issue,” he said.
Outlining the new scheme for granting visas under the family re-unification category, Ms Hyndman said that applicants were classified under Tier 1 or Tier 2, based on a number of factors including financial capability.
“We try to be as flexible as possible. Grandparents for instance, are granted multiple entry visas for three years (subject to satisfactory completion of formalities) but they may be required to undergo medical examination every 18 months,” she said.
Read related reports in this Section and under Communitylink. The picture here shows Michael Woodhouse with (from left) Ratilal Champaneri, Harshad Patel, Prakash Biradar and Bhikhu Bhana.