New sanctions for migrant exploitation useful but much more needed


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.

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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.


  1. Good work Mike. You have brought this shameful practice to my notice. This government is totally without ethics. They exploit their power and are totally irresponsible. They are supported by corporate monied interests – always have been.

  2. If people are coming here to work, they need the same trade union solidarity and employment law protections from that any citizen or permanent resident has. For their sake, but also for our sake. If employers can bring minimum-wage workers into the country, and then boot them out again if they don’t do what their told, unscrupulous employers will bring over as many as they can, and use them to displace workers who live here permanently. If immigrating workers have the some protections we do, employers may still employ them, but they can’t blackmail them, or use them to drive down wages and conditions for domestic workers.

    I’m glad Mike and Unite are thinking about they would want their own whānau or friends to be treated at work if they spent time working overseas.

  3. As long as we have an immigration policy that allows persons to come here as students, and then to stay here and work here up to four or five years, as of right, we will continue to have a large pool of willing minimum wage earning students competing with locals for jobs:

    “If you have a Student Visa, you may be able to work part-time, up to 20 hours per week, and full-time during scheduled holidays.”

    “In special cases, some students may be allowed to work for more than 20 hours a week.

    Work may be part of your qualification. For example, if your programme includes a set number of hours of required work experience, this can be additional to the 20 hours per week.

    Students of a masters by research or doctoral degree at a New Zealand institution may work full-time while they are studying.”

    “International students who have achieved a New Zealand qualification may be allowed to gain experience in work related to their studies.

    Depending on what you study, you may be able to work in New Zealand for up to four years, and possibly even gain residence.”

    “People who have a New Zealand qualification that they completed in New Zealand, can apply for a visa to work in New Zealand. To be eligible, you must have an acceptable qualification. If you’re granted a work visa, you can do almost any work you like, for any employer in New Zealand.”

    “This visa is for recent graduates who have successfully completed their qualification in New Zealand. To apply you’ll need to have an offer of full-time work in the same area as your qualification. If you’re granted this visa, it may provide a pathway for you to later apply for residence under our Skilled Migrant Category.”

    So much for our education “export” industry, it is actually for many an entry into NZ to become a permanent resident.

    The government tells the public that tertiary and other education is a good export service industry earning us a lot of revenue, but it is rather silent on the fact that student visas bring with them a right to work here, for years, after completing study, even during study.

    Go to many fast food outlets, to various retailers, to restaurants and so forth here in Auckland, and many employ such students, at or just barely above the minimum wage.

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