Migrant workers and international students can expect their erring employers to come to grief if a Government-sponsored set of new rules and regulations becomes law.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse introduced the Immigration Amendment Bill to Parliament on October 3, hoping to end ‘the era of abuse and exploitation of migrant workforce by some unscrupulous employers.’
He said that the new Bill will provide for conviction of those found guilty to a prison term of up to seven years and a fine of $100,000 or both.
Employers who are non-citizens will also face deportation. While New Zealand citizens cannot be deported, they will face the same punitive measures.
Indian Newslink has carried several reports of exploitation of migrant workers by employers of Indian origin including non-payment and delayed payment of salaries, non-compliance with minimum wage and holiday laws, and poor working conditions.
Mr Woodhouse hopes to eliminate existing inadequacy in his proposed Statute.
According to him, the penalties reflect the seriousness of such offences and the tough action that the Government is taking to tackle migrant exploitation.
“The fundamental and overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights and protections as all other workers in New Zealand, We are aware that some employers exploit their migrant workers. Sadly, in many cases the employer is a migrant themselves and taking advantage of vulnerable people from their own community,” he said.
However, the Bill will not achieve its objective if victims choose to remain silent for fear of facing deportation themselves. Some of them fear that they would lose their existing work visas and that the issue of a fresh work visa would be subject to inordinate delays. This newspaper is aware of a number of cases in which applicants have forfeited their job offers because Immigration New Zealand took more than one year to issue their work visas.
Mr Woodhouse has promised that his Government will take a sympathetic view.
“The Amendment Bill represents further measures as we move to stamp out this abhorrent practice. The Bill forms part of a package to address migrant exploitation and follows policy changes in June that encourage victims of exploitation to come forward without fear of being penalised.
“The Bill also extends the powers of immigration officers to search an employer’s premises and talk to the people present to identify offending by employers. They will also be able to search for unlawful workers, check documents and ensure that migrant employees are complying with the Act,” he said.
Additional Reading: ‘Amendment Bill misses vital immigration points’ (Homelink) and ‘Bill needs more bite than bark’ and ‘The growing menace of human trafficking’ (Viewlink)