The new sanctions involving banning employers temporarily from sponsoring visas to import labour to New Zealand is a useful, but very small step, given the scale of the migrant labour exploitation that exists in New Zealand
Whenever a comprehensive survey of migrant labour is done it reveals that the vast majority of employers using migrant labour are not compliant with the legal minimums operating in New Zealand. This was true, for example, for workers in agriculture and the Christchurch rebuild.
Banning employers from importing labour for six months to two years for “serious” breaches of the law seems like a slap on the wrist compared to the outrages that have been revealed over the last few years.
There are 150,000 workers in New Zealand at any one time on short-term work visas.
Many industries, including fast food, hotels, aged care, and agriculture depend on this labour.
They need protection.
But there are only a handful of labour inspectors in New Zealand – far fewer per head of population than Australia for example.
If the government was serious about protecting migrant workers rights they would begin by allowing all of them to change employer. They made this change for the Christchurch rebuild after the widespread non-compliance was revealed and it should be done for all workers on short-term sponsored visas.
They would also increase the number of inspectors five to ten-fold from the current number of fewer than 60. Rather than responding to the outrage that happens after the fact, the inspectors could do pre-emptive inspections of workplaces with employees on sponsored visas.
There is also a connection to the abuses of the so-called export education industry. People convicted of migrant labour exploitation have also been managers or owners of private educational institutions.
New Zealand has a duty of care to those we bring into the country to study and work. We are failing in that duty.