The government should consider greater sanctions for employers who exploit migrant workers
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is taking enforcement action against 19 employers in the dairy industry after they were found exploiting and short-changing migrant workers. Nineteen of the 29 employers inspected fell short of what the law requires.
This is a high proportion and it indicates exploitation of migrant workers is more widespread than many expect.
Migrant workers are often in precarious situations. Many rely on sponsorship from their employers and that means there is often reluctance to pursue complaints or grievances.
Many migrant workers are also isolated from agencies, which provide support and advice. Some workers lack the language skills needed to interact with agencies while others work on farms in isolated rural areas where agency help is sparse.
Then there are the migrant workers who operate with a ‘debt of gratitude’ to their employer and hence some employers exploit and get away with poor pay and conditions.
The government can take practical steps to protect migrant workers and enforce the law. Inspections should happen regularly and not seasonally and repeat offenders may need to be prevented from hiring migrant workers or put on a probationary period.
Dennis Maga is the Coordinator of Union Network of Migrants based in Auckland. Unimeg is a network of migrant workers within ‘First Union,’ which aims to protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers in New Zealand.
Our Staff Reporter adds:
Officials of the Labour Inspectorate of the MBIE have reportedly visited 29 dairy farms in nine regions to check their compliance with employment laws.
Labour Inspectorate Central Regional Manager Natalie Gardiner said that more than half the farms visited were in response to complaints of non-compliance.
“The level of non-compliance identified during this operation was extremely high and it was disappointing to find that a significant number of farmers still do not have systems in place to keep accurate time and wage records that are compliant with employment legislation,” she said.
According to her, the Ministry issued 15 Improvement Notices and four Enforceable Undertakings for 71 employment standard breaches.
It is understood that a majority of breaches related to poor record keeping but several farms had significant minimum wage breaches with about $120,000 owed as estimated arrears owed.
The Inspectorate is likely to file complaints against nine farms with the Employment Relations Authority.
“The Ministry takes the exploitation of workers very seriously and is working proactively to crackdown on it through compliance operations targeting sectors and at risk workers across New Zealand. We are also working with the industry to help equip farmers with the skills and knowledge to be better employers by ensuring they get the basics right,” Ms Gardiner said.
If you have a genuine complaint against your employer or if you know of someone being unfairly treated by their employer, please contact 0800-209020.