Migrant workers who are abused and exploited by their bosses can complain to the authorities without the fear of being deported, under a new policy of the Government. An Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Circular, issued on June 10, invites victims of workplace exploitation to provide details of their plight to its officials.
Such whistle blowers will be assured of ‘amnesty’ on some counts of immigration.
These would include protection against their unscrupulous employers, disregard of any previous periods of unlawfulness in the applicant’s immigration history during with the applicant was employed and provides evidence of workplace exploitation in respect of the employer concerned.
The new provision has been designed to stop employers from taking undue advantage of migrant workers but does not include other unrelated offences and criminal charges in which the applicant may be involved.
Labour inspectors are currently examining complaints against the owner of an Indian restaurant chain, who is alleged to be paying his foreign workers less than $4 hour and making them work 70 hours or more every week, without even a day off.
They are also looking into complaints of unaccounted cash payments as salaries, delayed payments, poor living and working conditions.
Dean Blakemore, Acting National Manager (Fraud & Compliance Operations) at the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment said that the Government views exploitation of migrant workers seriously.
“Exploitation can take various forms including poor pay, withholding of wages, long working hours, non-adherence to relevant labour laws (such as the Holidays Act), poor working conditions, no employment contract and so on. Exploitation often involves a combination of these issues,” he told Indian Newslink.
He said that there have also been complaints of employers threatening migrant workers and their families in their home country, treating them as bonded labour and scaring them of deportation.
He said victims should not hesitate to contact INZ officials.
“Sometimes cultural barriers inhibit a person’s willingness to report issues to authorities. It is the Ministry’s hope that the new policy will encourage exploited persons to report incidents of abusive work place practices,” Mr Blakemore said.
Time in prison
He said that punishment for exploiting migrant workers is imprisonment up to seven years and/or a fine up to $100,000.
Saif Shaikh, Director of Auckland based Immigration Advice New Zealand Limited, welcomed the new policy, saying that INZ has investigated a number of cases in which employers engage foreign nationals illegally, paying them wages far below the official hourly rate, charging a premium for employment and making them work very long hours.
“I recently came across an applicant who paid more than $20,000 to secure a job. He is currently working in an Indian restaurant, serving customers, washing dishes, mopping floors, vacuuming, scrubbing the kitchen and evening cleaning toilets. He works from 10 am to 1 am throughout the week, earning just $200,” he said.
The current minimum hourly wage is $13.75 and employees, including migrant workers, are expected to log between 40 to 48 hours a week. There are rules for coffee and lunch breaks, with at least a day off every week.
Mr Shaikh said that INZ has become tough on defaulting employers.
He advised employers to be aware of the legal status of those employed, retaining a copy of the relevant pages of their passport as evidence.
“It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that there no illegal residents in their employment. It would help to visit ‘VisaView’ (INZ website), which allows registered New Zealand employers to access INZ records to check whether a person who is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident is entitled to work in New Zealand. It also allows registered employers to confirm New Zealand passport information provided by job seekers,” he said.
Read our editorial, ‘Abusive employers must face justice’ (Viewlink) and related reports under Businesslink and Communitylink.