MUST READ: Migrant labour sytem is broken and needs radical change not tinkering

By   /   April 21, 2017  /   20 Comments

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The recent government changes to how approvals are managed for permanent residents will do nothing to alter the system of exploitation of tens of thousands of workers here on temporary work visas.

Migration hits another record

Net migration hit another record in the year to March of 71,900.

That’s up from 71,333 in the year to February and up from 70,600 in the 12 months to December.

Migrant arrivals numbered 129,500 in the March 2017 year, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Migrant departures were 57,600 in the 12 months to March 2017.

The recent government changes to how approvals are managed for permanent residents will do nothing to alter the system of exploitation of tens of thousands of workers here on temporary work visas.

The system is designed to create a pool of vulnerable and exploitable labour that is able to be used and abused. A part of this system is the so-called education export industry that takes billions of dollars a year off the students for qualifications they may or may not need but which can be used to transition to permanent residence for some.

It is this system that needs to be overthrown – not tinkered with like the government is doing.

In fact, the most recent changes will make the situation much worse for many.

We have 150,000 workers here at any one time on a temporary work visa. We have 100,000 fee-paying students. The government issues 250,000 temporary work visas a year.

We have been issuing around 40,000 permanent residence visas a year for the last several decades. Changes to how people qualify for these visas under the skilled work category makes no fundamental difference to the temporary visa scam.

Immigration has become a political hot potato and the government is desperate to be seen to be doing something without changing the fundamentals.

What changed significantly over the last few years is that what is called “net migration” went from zero in 2012 to 70,000 plus a year in 2016.

This is actually the net number for permanent and long-term visitors over permanent and long-term leavers. It is not actually anything to do with what most people think about when they talk about “migration”.

This number has radically increased principally because of the turn around in the net migration of New Zealand residents. This is mainly governed by the flow between New Zealand and Australia. Australia has become a less friendly country for workers from New Zealand for a number of reasons.

New Zealand usually loses a portion of its residents each year. This has averaged around 20,000 net loss since the mid-1980s. Non-New Zealand residents averaged a net gain of 30,000. The overall net gain for most of the past several decades was around 10,000.

However, NZ resident movements rose to a net loss of around 40,000 in 2012 and then dropped to near zero in 2016.

During that same time period since 2012, the government was liberalising access in other ways. This included increasing the permanent resident visa numbers from 40 to 50,000, the temporary work visa numbers from 120,000 to 170,000 and student visas from 60 to 80,000.

This resulted in the overall net gain in the number of permanent and long-term visitors ballooning from zero in 2012 to a 70,000 gain in 2016.

This surge in net gains has coincided with a property boom in Auckland in particular. Transport also seems almost permanently gridlocked in Auckland as well. It is easy to blame “uncontrolled” migration as at least in part causing these problems.

The fundamental cause of these problems is that property is simply a speculators playground and public transport has been starved of meaningful funding (except for an addiction to motorways) for decades.

Migrants are not to blame for either situation. The government simply refused to “plan” for the future of Auckland because any form of planning is an example of socialism. They waited for “the market” to perform its miracles. But the market produces property bubbles and motorways for trucks and cars not public housing and transport which is what was needed in massive quantities.

But the government is looking like it has lost control over key issues that are concerning people in Auckland in particular in the lead up to the election.

That is why they are trying to appear to be doing something. But they have no idea what the exact impact will be of the changes they have introduced.

It will be harder for many young people already here on student visas and temporary work visas to transition to the permananet residence. Many will have already invested tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on this goal.

I spoke to one young guy today who has already spent $80,000 on a two-year chef’s course at a polytech in Auckland. It was a quality course, unlike many others in private providers. He hoped to get permanent residence off the back of it with a job offer. That investment has now been written off as a chef’s wage wouldn’t be enough for the new criteria. He thinks he may get enough points if he does a Bachelor in Hotel Management. This could be another three years and $120,000. He will do it if he has to. His family will fund it. And If he gets his residency he will probably do something completely different. He will have essentially bought a permanent residence for $200,000. And that’s just the fees!

Changing the rules part way through, again and again, is simply unfair on those already here and invested on a future in this country.

The problems with the existing system arise because of the precarious nature of people’s employment. The changes will make these workers more not less precarious.

The changes could well reduce the number coming as students. This could lead to a collapse in many of the private providers in the export education industry as well when it dawns on students around the world that the chances of using student and temporary work visas to get residency has become even harder with the increase in qualifications being demanded.

The government does not have an immigration policy. They are simply opportunistically lurching from one direction to the other depending on political expediency.

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of workers (and students) are being exploited mercilessly. That will continue under the changes announced.

All workers who are in New Zealand should have full legal rights – including the right to change jobs. Those already here should be given first preference for staying. Under the government announcement, this has been allowed for 4000 workers in the South Island who have been here five years or more. Why restrict to that right to Bill English’s dairy farmer mates?

Whatever the number being allocated for permanent residence each year, priority should be given to those who are here working and studying. The government has institutionalised an endless cycle of three-year permits that force people to leave for at least a year at end of each cycle. This is just nuts. Just when people begin to get good at the jobs they have, form friendships and relationships, they are told they must leave. That is a form of indentured servitude.

The scandals and horrors we have seen in workplaces and private training establishments over recent years will continue.

We should do a fundamental shift in direction. The system is broken. It should be overthrown.

(To read more on the issue have a look at my pamphlet published on the Unite Union website.

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About the author

Mike Treen

National Director of Unite Union

20 Comments

  1. The Weatherman says:

    Right on the button, Mike. Thank you.

  2. keepcalmcarryon says:

    You seem to dwell more on the exploitation of these workers than the other effect -that of driving down lower skilled kiwi wages.
    Also although the problems you do mention (infrastructure, housing) are being ecxacerbated by migration.
    Bearing in mind the role of a government to govern for ITS citizens, Id suggest we cut migration to look after kiwi jobs before defending working rights of the tens of thousands flooding here from overseas.
    By all means end the visa scams and give us back some kiwi worker protections as well.

    • The Weatherman says:

      If you knew how badly they were being exploited you would bite your tongue.

    • Once ..whatever says:

      So which came first @Keep Calm?
      I’d suggest to you that it was the exploitation of these workers that came first, employed because they needed an income to survive and in under even harsher conditions than you or I would expect.
      That is people such as international students who came here to study (and get ripped off in shitty courses on the advice of ticket-clipper immigration consultants), and who simply had to do whatever to survive (take jobs – whatever they could get) being limited to things such as a 20hr week and other visa conditions. Or others having to resort to prostitution.

      What would you do (for example) if you were tied to a specific employer, and you had to pay to get out of your sad arse situation – and of course because you were already so badly paid, you couldn’t afford to – so you just had to Keep Calm and Carry On ??
      Bear in mind that they are effectively already in debt and under an obligation to repay it with often far worse circumstances if they do not than we would here.
      Are you suggesting we should feel no empathy for them?

      Let’s just kick that Philpino guy (on MSM News last night) the hell out of the country because we couldn’t manage our fisheries properly and thought it OK to run it on slave labour. Fuck him eh? We don’t have any responsibility for him – or his family – or the situation he’s had to endure. No fuck him! We’ll just hit the reset button, pretend it didn’t happen and start again.

      This is NOT about “all these bloody immigrants coming over here taking all our jobs” bullshit.
      That is the convenient narrative used to justify a system that is in place by design.
      It IS about exploitation IN the NZ workforce by the unscrupulous, whether the victims are Kiwis, Earth foreigners or bloody Martians.

      You seem to think the two ‘effects’ are mutually exclusive. In reality the two ‘effects’ feed off one another.

      Substantially reducing immigration is now an absolute necessity, but that doesn’t mean it should be done in a way that completely further shits on those that have already been ripped.

      You’re buying into that convenient narrative – one that the Natzis would be proud of – now realising that they fucked up royally over the past near decade. Blame the fucking immigrants we did our best to coax here in the first place eh?

      IF the arsholes who’ve taken advantage of the structure aren’t held to account – good luck with changing the situation. You’re setting yourself up to be in an environment where people think its OK to exploit and shit on others, and they’ll continue to try it on.

      Perhaps we should bring back all those dawn raids – the bloody vermin (/sarc)

      • keepcalmcarryon says:

        No, blame immigration, not the immigrants. Its a straw man argument that i dont care for the foreigners.
        What you and weatherman are failing to appreciate is that by advocating for foreign workers you are entrenching the globalisation of labour which is lowering our wages.
        Better to advocate for their working cvonditions in their own country and look after our own low paid better.
        Do you see?

        • Once ..whatever says:

          Ahhh …. the old ‘strawman’. It’s quite a good out at times eh?
          I’m in NO WAY advocating for the globalisation agenda.
          Indeed, if you look at one or two other posts, you’d see that isn’t an alternative fek
          I’m advocating for those that have made promises to keep their word (most having clipped the ticket to their benefit – and at their expense).
          AND I am suggesting that those who’ve already been exploited might be amongst your best allies.

          …..and actually a few other things, but unfortunately your petticoat is showing KC&CO a little too obviously for my tastes

        • Once ..whatever says:

          Ahhh …. the old ‘strawman’. It’s quite a good out at times eh?
          I’m in NO WAY advocating for the globalisation agenda.
          Indeed, if you look at one or two other posts, you’d see that isn’t an alternative fek
          I’m advocating for those that have made promises to keep their word (most having clipped the ticket to their benefit – and at their expense).
          AND I am suggesting that those who’ve already been exploited might be amongst your best allies.

          …..and actually a few other things, but unfortunately your petticoat is showing KC&CO a little too obviously for my tastes

          EDIT: but there’s probably much we’d agree on (as would quite a few of those bloody curry muncher, slope and chink immigrants)

        • saveNZ says:

          Have to agree with KEEPCALMCARRYON.

          A solution could also be if the government ended the parents entry – some of the problems would be solved.

          The young immigrants are under pressure from their families to come here and get residency so the parents can get in later. That’s why the migrant parents are spending $200k on fraudulent go betweens and their children’s courses cookery courses – so that they can enter themselves!

          Who knows what snakes sales men are going around selling the NZ dream to fleece migrants who not even understand what they are getting into!

          NZ government is supporting indentured labour and fraud – modern slavery if you will!

          In my mind not much different than human trafficking.

          I agree the migrant youths themselves are victims in many cases. But if you cut off the migrant parents, you will removed a big incentive AND the parents should not be getting in anyway – we have an ageing population already.

          In some kafka – like Natzism – we are increasing immigration of youths because we have an ageing population, only to make the problem worse by having for every migrant youth – 2 more aged parents can get residency here and be on the welfare system in 10 years!

          • saveNZ says:

            You also have to wonder what immigration and IRD checks there are – these drug dealers have not filed a tax return in the 26 years but still got residency here and nobody notices even though importing in kg’s of Meth!

            http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11842563

            “Yim was sentenced this month in the High Court at Auckland to 11 and a half years in prison for possession of a class A drug for supply.

            During sentencing he was described by Justice Geoffrey Venning as being vital to the drug scheme which imported the equivalent of 30kg of pure methamphetamine with a street value of $40m.

            Yim, who came to New Zealand from Hong Kong on a resident visa before gaining citizenship in 1995, has previously been convicted on three unrelated charges.

            According to Inland Revenue records neither Yim nor Wu, who arrived in New Zealand in 1991 and 1994, have ever declared their income nor paid any tax.”

          • Once ..whatever says:

            Take a step back to where he/she said “Blame immigration NOT immigrants.”
            I’m assuming he/she means immigration policy.

            And once you’ve done that, and you’re faced with a number of immigrants that are already here based on a structure that is OURs by design (and I mean Aotearoa NZ’s design), now tell me we should just tip them out because WE fucked up and we think maybe we don’t need them (unless of course until we can get some Kiwis with good experience and knowledge [ that’s aside from a bit of paper indicating a qualification, and maybe an nzqa qualification])Yes, lets shall we!
            Please don’t moan to me though when your granny or great granny living in a Ryman Healthcare facility is discovered living in shit after a week or so of neglect, and accidents involving trucks fail to lessen, or when the next viral infection gets a G3 kiwifruit crop and we’re still trying to train Kiwis on how to deal with it, or when Chorus (via any number of ISPs) tells you there’ll be yet another delay to your fibre installation, or whether your plans for recovery after an EQC event is further delayed……………….

            Never mind though eh? There are about 600 ‘special cases’ in the South Island designed to see us all happy and smiling.
            They’re farm and horticulture workers. They’re exceptional. They’re exceptional, not only because they work in Bill#s and others electorates, but they’ve demonstrated a commitment to Nu Zull, and they are so very different (exceptional even) from various other rabble in the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay.
            Woi even Soi-bigman-Brugizz will confirm that going forwid!

  3. keepcalmcarryon says:

    Im no massive fan of Gareth Morgan but I find it hard to argue with this entry on his parties blog the other day:
    http://www.top.org.nz/national_s_immigration_policy_still_mad

    “Under normal circumstances as full employment is approached lower paid workers would share in the spoils of prosperity through enjoying higher wages. That is the normal operation of the market. Instead, the Government has aimed to prevent such an outcome by importing low skilled labour, which puts pressure on infrastructure and pushes up living costs (e.g. transport and housing). The ultimate outcome is that taxpayers have to make up the ever-expanding difference between the minimum wage that more and more people find themselves on, and the living wage. If ever there was a circle of futility, this seems to be it.”

    The taxpayer making up the difference is his reference to working for families elsewhere in the article.

  4. Adrian Thornton says:

    OK so here are some facts about working in the apple industry in the Hawkes Bay, specifically picking apples…
    -This industry is the biggest local employer over the apple season.
    -There hasn’t been an increase in bin rates ( a bin contains about 2000-2700 apples depending on variety) for appox 15 years, which is $30 per bin.
    The average picker can pick between 4-5 bins a day=$150 per day or $3000 per month/ $18.75 per hour for the top average picker.

    Less rain days,April average working days lost to rain= 6 days, so minus $900 per month.
    Average contract take home wage if worker picks high average of 5 bin per day, $2100 per month or $13.12 per hour.
    This works out even worse if the worker is working for minimum wage while picking, which is often the case
    Monthly they would average $1764 per month or $11.25 per hour.

    Keep in mind the minimum wage is $15.75 p/h
    Cambridge English Dictionary;
    minimum meaning : the smallest amount or number allowed or possible.

    RSE workers have and are being exploited to suppress wages and conditions in New Zealand..by both National and Labour.

    It makes me rage to think the New Zealand Labour Party is an avocate of this, what can only be described as straight out class war.

  5. KJT says:

    Working people know that immigration is used to keep wages low, housing prices high, and to avoid the costs of training staff. All of us know of jobs that young Kiwis’ could have been trained to do, filled by immigrants. To the detriment of New Zealanders. Treasury figures show that immigrants contribute much less, than the right wing claims. While being a drain on our infrastructure.
    The “growth” is a misnomer. Per capita growth is negative. Constant growth, is not sustainable in a finite world, anyway.
    It is not immigrants fault that our Government allows in way to many. More per capita than the UK. But enough is enough. We already suffer from the cultural takeover of our industrial relations, by the UK style of management, and class barriers, after excessive immigration from the UK in the 50’s.

    Time employers were told that bleating to the immigration department, as they have been doing as long as I can remember, is not a substitute for paying for training, paying adequate wages and treating their employees well.

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    Well, I have had one such overseas student flatmate live with me not all that long ago, he spent a fair bit of money on a business course at a private training institute here in Auckland. He basically used much of his remaining savings that he earned in his home country, and maybe another country he lived in over a period of years, to get a student visa to study here. Like most who come here as adult students, he has come here with the intention to immigrate, as that was what his private course provider had dangled in front of him, like a carrot, as a real “opportunity”.

    Therefore the many students and temporary work visa holders, they do in many cases also come to get permanent residence here, not just stay here for a couple of years and leave again.

    Now he is in shock, as the government has suddenly lifted the bar, in a bizarre way, as I must say, a prospective immigrant, that is a person qualifying for PR (permanent residence), now needs to ear at least close to 49 thousand dollars a year, as from 14 August 2017.

    As his course is not a PHD kind of course, and as it only offered rather average “business” skills, he may only succeed in still getting a job under a post-study work visa, given his earlier experience in his type of business. But he will nevertheless struggle getting the now already higher set number of points needed for getting PR.

    Not being a native English speaker, and having (besides of overseas study certificates and some work experience) only his NZ certificate, he will find it difficult getting a job that pays 49k a year.

    He feels ripped off, kind of, but like him, there are so many, the government has opened up this ‘export market’ for educational services, with the intent to firstly sell education, and give NZ institutes a chance to earn through this, but also with the intention to have a pool of cheap labour, that is allowed to work up to twenty hours a week.

    There are some that work many more hours, because there are employers who seem to know ways around the rules, or that simply cheat, and so we have many thousands paying high fees, struggling to pay the high rents here, and struggling to survive, who will do anything to work, and earn a bit extra where they can.

    I have learned that luxury and top hotels in Auckland only pay their waiting and other staff nothing more than 17.50 dollars per hour, before tax, and that is across the board, to local workers and foreign workers (some students).

    With such pay rates, and the industrial relations and employment laws we have, we allow employers to simply exploit, and also abuse immigrants and students, to compete for even the limited existing low paid jobs, hence wages and salaries here hardly grow.

    To change the situation we have, we need different policy, as Mike Treen suggests, and to get this, we need to vote in another government. We also need to have people show solidarity at the work place and in society in general. That is not easy to achieve, when the immigration policy that we presently have encourages individualistic thinking migrants, who are ‘competitive’, ‘achievers’, ‘opportunists’ and ‘go getters’, some ruthless business operators.

    Solidarity may be shown by joining unions, but how many immigrants join unions, most do not, as they know, employers rather have non unionised workers, on individual contracts, who they can intimidate if they try and ask for things.

    The fact that the job market is competitive, this means, there is little prospect for solidarity to develop. There lies a major problem. Also most NZers manage to get “better” jobs, so the low paid, unpopular jobs, in hospitality, in horticulture, in agriculture, in sanitary cleaning services, elder care and so forth, they are often filled by immigrants from certain places, or by desperate students, wanting to earn a few bucks to live.

    Whatever changes are needed, they will be criticised by some, even by prospective immigrants, as they want to have a chance. Allowing high numbers of immigrants, that will only make things worse, certainly at present, same for students.

    Some info:
    http://nzstudywork.immigration.govt.nz/information-for-employers/students-staying-after-study/
    https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/media-centre/news-notifications/new-zealand-residence-programme-changes

  7. Mike in Auckland says:

    Quote:
    “We have been issuing around 40,000 permanent residence visas a year for the last several decades. Changes to how people qualify for these visas under the skilled work category makes no fundamental difference to the temporary visa scam.”

    But it actually does, as many of those coming here to work temporarily on work visas, and also on student visas, they only come here, because of the possibility to also apply for PR.

    So the pressure on them to get there only increases. Competition increases, and things get a damned lot harder for them, to get PR.

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/329160/new-immigration-rules-could-hit-young-foreign-students

    https://e2nz.org/whats-it-like-to-live-in-nz/quality-of-life/the-abuse-of-international-students/

    Earlier concerns:
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/325901/international-students-feel-%27deceived%27-by-rule-changes

    Extract fr. article:
    “Students deceived by agents in India – lawyer

    Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said he had thousands of clients who felt deceived by Immigration New Zealand’s continual references to a pathway to residence.

    He said unlicensed agents in India had not slowed down their false promotion of overseas education as a route to residence since the change in the points system.

    “Some of them have been trying to get residence for years through work experience so it does affect them in a large way,” he said.

    “But most of them have been sold the whole New Zealand education experience and they’ve already committed so much time and money into it, that they’re willing to keep on working here, gaining work experience and trying to gather enough points to meet the criteria to get residence, because that’s what they were sold.”

    Mr McClymont said students and graduates were unwilling to speak out about their plight, out of fear it would affect their immigration prospects.”

  8. Mike in Auckland says:

    “I spoke to one young guy today who has already spent $80,000 on a two-year chef’s course at a polytech in Auckland. It was a quality course, unlike many others in private providers. He hoped to get permanent residence off the back of it with a job offer.”

    Wow, where did he get that money from, as a foreign student? He must have had well off parents or sponsors, or else this is simply impossible.

  9. bert says:

    Interesting comments fro Heather du Plessis Allan today.

    “Auckland cannot handle the people we have now, yet we keep cramming more in.

    We let 71,000 immigrants into the country last year and almost as many are expected to come annually over the next couple of years.

    Meanwhile, the National Government won’t be honest with us.

    Be under no illusion, the immigration announcement this week was a classic example of trying to trick us. We were supposed to be fooled into thinking the changes will drop immigration numbers.

    In line four of the press release Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said this would manage “the number … of migrants coming to New Zealand”.

    It won’t. Woodhouse was pressed on it and ‘fessed up that, actually, the point isn’t really to “materially reduce” the flow of immigrants.

    He also tried to pretend that, even if he wanted to do more, he really couldn’t because many of the migrants are “New Zealanders coming home and not leaving”.

    I checked the raw Statistics NZ figures. Woodhouse is not even a little bit right.

    In the year to February, we lost a net 1700 Kiwis. Our net immigration is all made up of foreigners.

    There are entire political science theories dedicated to explaining what the National Party is doing this year. They’re simply neutralising issues ahead of the election.

    These Government decisions are an attempt to shut down voter worries that could give Labour or NZ First something to campaign on.
    So, if you feel strongly about something, they’ll try to make you stop caring. Lifting the Superannuation age. Extra Police staff. Paying aged-care workers a decent wage. Cleaning up rivers. Light rail to Auckland airport.

    All these Government decisions are an attempt to, one by one, shut down the kinds of voter worries that could give Labour or New Zealand First something to campaign on.”

    Let me remind you about it again

    “He also tried to pretend that, even if he wanted to do more, he really couldn’t because many of the migrants are “New Zealanders coming home and not leaving”.

    I checked the raw Statistics NZ figures. Woodhouse is not even a little bit right.”

    Woodhouse is an outright liar, so the question remains, how many lies does it take to win an election?

  10. […] believe we need to crack down on migrant worker and student visas because many of these workers and students are exploited by the current system and it lets domestic employers off the hook for providing decent wages and conditions while […]