The rising number of “horror stories” of migrant workers forced to subsist under appalling working and living conditions is cause for serious concern and the Government must take early and appropriate action to arrest this trend.
I have been in the hospitality business for several years, during which many such migrants approached me with their tales of being overworked and underpaid.
They have said that they were compelled to work up to 60 hours but paid only for 40 hours, the maximum allowed under the law.
Many businesses make international students work as waiters, cooks and cleaners for 40 hours a week but pay them for just 20 hours – the maximum these students are allowed to work while they are studying.
They do not get any other entitlements, including time-off for additional hours of work or holiday pay.
Most of them suffer in silence for fear of either losing their jobs or being deported. They remain victims, encouraging unscrupulous employers to continue their illegal and immoral behaviour.
Until we have a system in place to protect migrants on work permits and international students from unscrupulous employers, New Zealand’s fair image will be eroded and genuine and honest employers will continue to suffer.
Such practices give these dishonest employers unfair advantage over law-abiding businesses.
It is time the Government agencies realised the foul play perpetrated by some employers and brought them to justice.
The Labour Department and its arm, Immigration New Zealand, should be on the same page and sing from the same song sheet.
If these two government agencies do surprise checks on businesses regularly, they will realise the extent to which taxpayers and honest workers are being cheated, just because the system lacks the teeth to bite into their affairs. They should not hesitate to hand out severe punishment on unlawful activities.
Inland Revenue, which promptly brings to book those defaulting on income tax, GST and PAYE remittances, does not seem to have a clue about employers who defiantly flout the existing rules and regulations. The officials must realise that millions of dollars are lost in revenue just because there exist people who have the audacity to cheat the system and get away with it.
I understand this newspaper is currently investigating a number of complaints of migrant workers and students having to sign two different contracts with their employers, one with genuine clauses to comply with the law and obtain the necessary work permit and another that takes away the rights of employees including the right to minimum wage, holiday pay and other benefits.
I am not surprised.
Poverty and unemployment are still high in India and that country’s economy has hugely benefited by remittances from Indians working overseas.
The Indian government is already seeking to improve its own migrants’ rights. It bans recruitment agencies from charging fees to workers (as opposed to employers) and is raising the minimum wages that such agencies offer.
Tackling the problem before it gets out of control clearly makes sense.
Businesses and employers in receiving countries already seem to be worried about competition for their jobs in the retail, education, banking, information technology and hospitality sectors.
Willingness to put in hard and long hours of work, accept lower salaries and most important of all, to suffer in silence, are among the factors that make migrant workers vulnerable to the onslaughts of unscrupulous businesses
It is time for action; the administration must bring perpetrators to justice.