Worker exploitation rampant in New Zealand

Modern Slavery is becoming common

Tod Cooper

Wellington, May 4, 2018

Our politicians and law makers need to accelerate the introduction of a Modern Slavery Act to establish clearer compliance expectations, tighter regulations and higher pecuniary consequences for individuals and businesses who support Modern Slavery.

The UK example

A good example is the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

All companies with a UK footprint and an annual turnover of more than £36 million are required to produce annual reports outlining what they are doing to identify and tackle modern slavery in their supply chains.

Forms of Exploitation

What forms does exploitation take?

Dr Christina Stringer from the University of Auckland Business School in her report, ‘Worker Exploitation In New Zealand: A Troubling Landscape’ defines exploitation to include (a) Excessive working hours sometimes without breaks (b) No pay or severe under-payment with examples of migrants earning as little as $4-$5 an hour (c) No holiday pay (d) No employment contracts (c) Taxes deducted but not paid to the Inland Revenue (d) Degrading treatment: being sworn at or insulted, denied bathroom breaks, verbal or physical abuse and threatened abuse, restriction of movement; and (f) Cash-for-residency schemes, in which workers paid cash to their employers.

Confiscation of Passports

Add confiscation of an individual’s passport’ to this list.

A passport is the property of the government that issued it, not the holder. Only an official can confiscate it, and only for justified reasons. While employers may reasonably request to hold a passport as a condition of employment, they must return it upon request.

Susceptible Industries

According to Dr Stringer, industries most impacted by exploitation tend to be labour intensive, many of which fall within our own primary sector.

Below are the more impacted sectors with an example of reported exploitation of some workers in each:

Construction: Not helped by events such as the Canterbury earthquake and housing shortages. Canterbury rebuild workers report debt bondage to pay exorbitant recruitment fees of around $10,000 each.

Dairy: Workers described abuse, poor working conditions, lack of pay, and poor and inhumane treatment of animals.

Fishing: Fishing has a global reputation for human rights abuses, with crews working excessive hours under harsh treatment and abhorrent conditions.

Horticulture: Workers routinely receive less than the minimum wage; some as little as $5 an hour. Employers threaten to report workers to Immigration New Zealand if they complained.

Hospitality: Workers paid for far fewer hours than worked, some not paid at all during their trial period.

International Education: Students working well over the hours allowed under their visas while promised that a student VISA is a fast track to New Zealand

Sex work: Temporary migrants hired to provide cosmetic services and therapeutic massages coerced to provide sexual services.

Modern slavery and worker exploitation is rampant in New Zealand. Our laws are not sufficient and financial penalties are negligible.

It is time to take action through stricter laws and improved enforcement.

Tod Cooper is General Manager, MDA Corporation, an Information and Technology Services Company based in Wellington. He is a Member with delegated authority for Procurement/ Online Training/ Whistleblowing. You can write to him

The above article is from ‘May Transparency Times’ of Transparency International New Zealand.

(Picture Courtesy:

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