About a month ago, I lodged an Official Information Act request with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The object of my inquiry was to attempt to discover just how many of the people applying for New Zealand Residency were actually on the long-term skill shortages list. Or, in other words, how many people coming here were bringing skills and aptitudes which we desperately need, and which can’t otherwise be easily found in the general New Zealand Population.
The answer, somewhat to my surprise, was that the figure was around 40%. Or, phrased another way, a clear majority of migrants to New Zealand – some 60% – are not people whom we vitally need on an economic basis.
Why this matters is because for the longest time large-scale immigration commensurate with a figure the size of the population of Nelson turning up in our midst every year was justified to us on the basis that these people were bringing essential skills which we needed – and that our economy would surely begin to grind to a halt if we were to attempt to seriously curtail migration numbers.
That has been the argument issuing forth from the Government Benches every time somebody from New Zealand First, Labour, or civil society in general have sought to suggest that untrammeled population growth through immigration is at least partially responsible for spiraling Auckland house-prices and ongoing escalating pressure upon already over-subscribed infrastructure and social spending. (And, to be fair, it’s not just the Opposition who’ve noticed this happening – even the Prime Minister now accepts that large-scale immigration has placed a strain upon infrastructure)
But recently, the discourse has changed. Building upon comments made by Finance Minister Bill English a couple of months ago, this week John Key added severe insult to ongoing economic injury by suggesting that the chief reason why we evidently continue to import thousands of workers not on the vital skill-shortages list … is because New Zealand workers are, variously, lazy, on drugs, or unprepared to totally uproot their lives to move half-way round the country in pursuit of a nebulous and likely to disapparate vacancy several hundred kilometers away from home. Key has even made international headlines on everything from The Guardian to Breitbart for choosing to sell out his own country and people like this.
We shall leave aside new evidence which appears to suggest that easier access to marijuana appears to correlate with *less* worker absenteeism. Instead, the portions of Key’s argument worth focusing upon are the more purely economic ones. The Prime Minister has claimed that one of the key reasons for employers (particularly in the horticultural and one would assume service sectors) to be so enthusiastic for immigrant labour is because Kiwi workers are allegedly “lazy”. The counter-claim made by Union officials and others is that unscrupulous employers in the industries in question are seeking to pay exploitatively – even illegally – low wages to their workers, which Kiwi labour will quite often not stand for.
Nor is the enthusiasm some more malevolent employers have for migrant labour confined to things like unpaid overtime and straight-up unrenumerated hours of work. Other factors include the greater difficulty many migrants have in pursuing workplace grievances or insisting upon their rights due to language barriers or a lack of domestic contacts with which to hold employers to account. Unions have also raised serious concern about the coercive realities represented by bosses being able to revoke the visas of migrant workers who speak up, thus having them deported.
From the perspective of a migrant worker, this is all obviously seriously bad. But the effects and ambit of what’s been going on here don’t just affect them. Instead, the net impact of adding tens of thousands of extra workers to our labour market have an impact upon all those who participate in same – not just the more recent arrivals.
We know from the basic and elementary economic law of ‘supply and demand’ that the more supply there is to a market, the lower the price of the commodity in question will be. Labour is the service being supplied here. Adding supply – particularly supply which is buyable/hirable at a price rather below that which existing supply is available at – drags down the equilibrium price of that labour. In order to remain competitive with those who are willing (or less-willingly forced) to work for lower wages, workers must demand less pay and refrain from attempting to negotiate for pay-increases.
It also becomes harder to ensure the comprehensive unionization of industries and workplaces when you have situations like that we saw in Christchurch in 2014 wherein migrant workers find themselves pressured by their home-governments to not join a union or enlist the aid of one to resolve grievance claims in order to remain preferable for malevolent Kiwi employers.
The twin obvious justifications for why National continues to allow in thousands of migrant labourers who aren’t on the long-term skill shortages list thus ought to be plainly obvious.
It’s because our Government are working hand-in-glove with their economically exploitative employment-offering mates to attempt to artificially depress both pay and conditions in the broader New Zealand labour market – for everyone, not just migrant workers.
Ever since the roll-out of the Rogernomics economic “reforms” in the 1980s, take-home pay in real terms has been declining for workers in New Zealand. We have also witnessed ongoing attempts by successive Governments to corral and constrain Union power. But while they have evidently accomplished oh so much economic devastation for the ordinary person through direct legislative instruments, since the halting of the ‘mainstream’ Neoliberal ‘revolution’ in the mid-late 1990s following the running out of steam of Ruthanasia etc, more insidious means to further the same broad objectives have had to be pursued.
It is deeply regrettable that so many come to our shores in pursuit of a ‘better life’, only to find exploitation and marginalization awaiting them. I mean no malice nor antipathy towards our migrant populations and those seeking accession to Permanent Residency by writing this. But the grand and impersonal macroeconomic forces that our extant Neoliberal overlords have unleashed – which push and which pulverize propelled in no small part through population-flows drawn from across the ocean – do indeed deserve calling out and commentary upon.
It is, after all, our Government’s fault rather than the ‘malaise’ of any migrant that we are in this situation to begin with. And therefore our collective responsibility, as voters and as citizens, to penetrate the murk and see what they’re actually up to.
The figure of only 40% of those applying to gain Residency here as migrants who’re able to meet essential, long-term skill-vacancies helps to show us quite conclusively that National’s priorities when it comes to immigration are not exactly in the interests of ordinary New Zealanders.