Migrant workers ‘used and abused’


7506913Immigration New Zealand has toughened up on work visa requirements in the fast food industry and requirements needed to progress to permanent residence.

Migrant workers in the industry have invested tens of thousands of dollars doing courses in “Hospitality”, “Management”, etc in order to qualify for work visas after graduation that allow them to train to the point that they could become “managers”. Until the recent changes managers could qualify for PR.
Hundreds of workers in the industry today have spent 2-5 years studying and then working for companies in the fast food and hospitality sectors with the ultimate goal being PR. They would not have come to NZ at all without that possibility.

Often these workers have been used and abused by New Zealand employers because they were totally dependent on the company for their visa and therefore felt compelled to do everything possible to please their managers and employers in the hope they will be promoted. This meant they felt unable to enforce some of their legal rights, including breaks, joining a union, being paid for all hours worked.

Removing the final rung in the ladder (PR) means these workers feel they have been ripped off by the government and employers and have wasted years of their lives and thousands of dollars – often doing jobs they would never have thought of doing in their home countries – even for less pay than they would have got at home as well.

At the same time it appears that Immigration New Zealand is making it more difficult to get shorter term work visas – with each promotion in a company being deemed a new job requiring a new visa. What used to be two-year visas are being reduced to six months.

These changes have also made it difficult for migrant workers to get promotion. The companies are thinking it is a waste of time training and promoting a migrant worker if they won’t be able to stay longer term.
Companies in fast food and hospitality are against the changes Immigration NZ has made and argue that they genuinely cannot find workers in New Zealand to do these jobs.

Unite Union does not accept this argument. Companies that operate in the free market and want to use the rules of the free market should also accept that the market may dictate a pay rise to attract the labour and skill required.

What is true is that it is unlikely that a kiwi-born worker or permanent resident with the skills necessary to run a 24 hour a day 7 day a week business with 50 staff and a turnover of several million dollars or more would do it for $40,000 per year.

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It is our understanding that an average managers wage has declined from around $60,000 to around $40,000 in real terms in the industry over the past few decades.

The companies have been able to reduce the average real wage because they have been able to use skilled migrant labour. These workers are employed as managers on salaried contracts and rarely get paid for working in excess of 40 hours a week when the job actually requires them to be on site 50-60 hours a week.

One of the terrible aspects of the migration regime is that migrant workers are tied to a particular company for the visa. They can’t change companies for a better position. This is a recipe for abuse.
Whilst as a union we do not want to necessarily argue that Immigration NZ shouldn’t tighten up on these companies abilities to use immigrant labour in this way, we do think that it is unfair to penalise those who are already here under the old rules.

We want the government to consider a policy of applying the old rules to migrant workers who are already here on work visas so they can stay long enough to train and be promoted to a managers position and gain permanent residency.

We would also agree with the companies that there appears to be a lack of understanding of the level of skill required of those in “assistant managers” positions at a BK, KFC, or McD’s store who are being turned down for residency applications while those with a “managers” position at a small Subway store are being accepted.

Unite accepts that immigration is a necessary part of the world in which we live. People will move and should have the right to move in the search for a better life. This is as true for NZers going to Australia as it is for Indian and Chinese or Pacific Islanders coming to New Zealand.

In my view migration has enriched New Zealand. Racist anti-immigration politicians like Winston Peters try to encourage fears about migration that have no foundation. Migration strengthens the economy and creates jobs. But when there is unemployment it is easy to point the finger at the newest arrivals and blame them.
Unions should oppose anti-immigrant sentiment and fight for equal rights for anyone who works in New Zealand.

Similarly the government should demand the rights of permanent residence for all New Zealand workers in Australia. It used to be that NZ migrants to Australia got the benefits of permamnent residence on arrival – including welfare benefits and access to education. The same rights applied to Australians moving to New Zealand to work. In 2000 the stand down period of two years was imposed on New Zealanders to acess benefits. Then in 2001 only those who met the Australian requirements for Permanent Residence (skills, character etc) could access welfare and education rights. Most New Zealanders are now being denied PR when they apply. Close to 300,000 Kiwis in Australia are now living in Australia without the equal rights that should be their right. They are in a much worse situation than other legal migrants.

Under all the free trade deals being signed in the world big business can move their money and investments freely. Managers of multinantionals also have the rights to come and go under these agreements.

Ultimately I think we will live in a world where people can travel and work freely – as they can in Europe and to a degree in Australasia.

As a first step in this region we should demand equal rights for migrants in the South Pacific to live and work in Australia and New Zealand. This will also be a small step to make up for the legacy of colonialism and exploitation that was imposed on the island nations of the Pacific by Australia and New Zealand. It would also help redress the injustice inflicted on the many Samoan people stripped of their New Zealand citizenship rights in the 1980s. And Kiwis would have the same rights in Australia as Australian do here.


  1. Even though Kiwi migrants in Australia are in a worse situation than other legal immigrants, they are still in a better situation than if they’d stayed home. The pillage of Aotearoa and its entry into the 3rd world are well underway, a process begun in 1984 and hardly altered since. Soon we’ll be “Mexicans without cellphones.”

  2. Mike.
    It’s really pleasing to see that you are giving this issue an airing.

    While unemployment statistics are growing, there is the temptation for the ‘bloody immigrants stealing all our jobs” routine to be trotted out as many NZers are effectively placed on the scrap heap by the policies of this government. Amongst unemployed Kiwis, there is the temptation to blame blame the immigrant, the refugee, or the foreign student for displacing many with residency on the job ‘market’.

    As you say, the foreign student/immigrant has invested many thousands of dollars in coming here to study, often from families with extremely low incomes. In many instances at tertiary level, they are actually subsidising the Kiwi student by way of fee structures.

    Tertiary Institutions – especially those privately operated for a buck have over promised and under-delivered.
    Many have come here having paid exorbitant fees to gain suspect qualifications and have been led to believe that once qualified, work experience and employment would be provided or easily obtained relevant to the students’ qualification(s) attained.

    Some of these private institutions have gone belly up or been closed as they should be, BUT the student has been utterly ripped off. What then of the government’s response? Rather than assist those students in recovering their investment and money they could ill afford, they have effectively been told to fuck off.

    Those that have had the courage to try and complain to the appropriate authority (such as the old Labour Department) have often been ignored including by under-resourced government agencies that have been merged into a Joyce type empire whose primary function seems to be to provide their senior managements with the kind of salaries National Ministers seem to think is their entitlement. Complaints have simply gone into a black holes.

    The picture painted though, is that it is the student/immigrant that is trying to scam the system to gain PR (all a bit like those bloody queue-jumpers and ‘illegals’ Australia is contending with), WHEN in fact the cause has been the rip-off by the tertiary institution that has fleeced them.
    What then is the government doing? It is using police and immgration officials to now conduct Muldoon style dawn raids in parts of NZ.
    A potential complainant evicted apparently is a problem solved!

    Whilst many have overstayed their visas, they have done so either to get some remedy for having been ripped off, and/or because they feel an obligation to repay their families for the thousands of dollars they have scrimped, scraped and saved up for in order to give their kids a good education and start in life. Many try to do so by working for less than minimum wage in menial jobs, and even through prostituion. They may very well be displacing Kiwis from employment in these jobs but we should be careful when trying to apportion blame.

    I’m not sure this government realises just how damaging this all is to NZ’s reputation but they will do when, in future they go after free-trade agreements with emerging economies. They should not be surprised when they’re told to get fucked after having treated foreign nationals that have been ripped off in the manner they have. Some governments appear to have a greater concern for their citizenry than this current NZ government has of them, AND of its own.

    That aside however, that fair-minded, egalitarian, friendly society that Kiwis like to promote and see themselves as, is being trashed to the extent that it is seen as an absolute myth by those this government will soon be wanting to grovel to and do business with.

    Key may think his recent South American jaunt (for example) has been a roaring success. Rest assured governments there and in Asia are becoming more and more aware of the shoddy treatment many of their nationals have faced.
    And God spare us from charter schools proposed – it has been institutions akin to these that have been responsible for the rip-offs. Kiwis themselves will soon come to sample that bizness of education – that commodity market the likes of National and Act want to promote. At least they won’t be faced with dawn raids and deportation however when the education delivered doesn’t live up to expectations.

    So when Kiwis next visit a supermarket and note the number of people working their with English as their second language, rather than think that they are displacing the unemployed Kiwi (many receiving UB), they should be aware that these people (and their families) have often paid tens of thousands of dollars for the ‘privilege’ of such employment!

    We should actually all be ashamed!

  3. our indian students are being abused and exploited by dump kiwis
    ,who are illiterate . lower wages, no jobs its reality of nz .

    pls d ont go thr

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