Venkat Raman –
New Zealand is yet to demonstrate the political and social will to punish rogue employers who exploit migrant workers, international students and other vulnerable people. While there is some move in the right direction, the law is not stringent enough to bring the perpetrators to justice with speed and efficiency.
That was the gist of opinions gathered at a symposium organised by the Auckland Regional Migrant Services (ARMS) at the Fickling Convention Centre in Three Kings on September 16, 2015, as a part of its ‘Local Settlement Network Meeting.’
A number of speakers including this reporter highlighted the miserable plight of these vulnerable workers including (a) poor working and living conditions (b) long hours of work (c) salary far below minimum wage (d) delay and non-payment of wages (e) poor record of workplace safety and (f) extortion, threats and verbal abuse.
David Milne of the Labour Inspectorate said that the Government was keen to ensure that employees are treated fairly at their workplaces and that employers comply with the rules and regulations in force.
“Our challenge is to cope with the increasing number of migrant workers added to the workforce and the growth in the number of flexible and informal employment arrangements. New Zealand accounts for about two million workers of which about 300,000 people are at or around the minimum wage. The declining union coverage, poor public appreciation of employment standards and weak supply chain modes that lack assurance are also among the challenges that we face,” he said.
According to him, the new Employment Relations Bill will enhance the powers of the government and introduce an infringement regime which can be enforced against employers who fail to comply with basic needs of employees.
He said that migrant workers and youth, dairy, horticulture, viticulture, hospitality, construction, fishing and retail industries come under special focus. Canterbury and South Auckland are also of special interest to the Labour Inspectorate, he said.
“The Inspectorate undertakes investigations based on complaints and information that it receives from sources. Employers violating the law and breaching conditions of minimum wage and employee safety will be brought to justice. The investigation of the Masala chain of Indian restaurants in Auckland and the ‘Bottle O’ Company which owed more than $50,000 in arrears to his migrant workers and the Ponsonby Food Court case which also involved $50,000 in arrears for migrant workers are all instances that prove our increased involvement to ensure fairness to the workforce,” Mr Milne said.
He also cited the example of Preet, a chain of convenience and liquor stores in Canterbury and the extension of labour laws to fishing crews as a part of the efforts of his Directorate to foster equity and justice among the workforce.
“The government will also undertake campaigns to raise awareness of migrants and international students on their rights and hold employers to account. We will ensure that there is ‘general deterrence’ in place for the benefit of all parties,” Mr Milne said.
David Milne speaking at the Local Settlement Network Meeting on September 16, 2015