Migrant worker exploitation to continue under new policy

By   /   July 28, 2017  /   21 Comments

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The government has partially backed down from some changes to immigration policy that would have reduced the flow of cheap labour to New Zealand employers. The changes maintain the essence of the policy which was to keep access to cheap labour from abroad, and keep that labour vulnerable and easily exploited when here.

The government has partially backed down from some changes to immigration policy that would have reduced the flow of cheap labour to New Zealand employers.
The changes maintain the essence of the policy which was to keep access to cheap labour from abroad, and keep that labour vulnerable and easily exploited when here.
We now have three categories of “temporary” worker.
  • The least skilled category earning less than 85% of this country’s median income (currently $41,538) who will have a three-year visa and must leave the country for a year before getting another one.
  • A mid-skilled category earning between $41,538 and $73,299 in an occupation classified as ANZSCO Level 1-3. They will be able to renew their visas without leaving the country so long as they can demonstrate a skills shortage applies for their occupation in their area. There are hints that some workers like dairy farm workers will have their skill classification upgraded to fit this category.
  • A higher-skilled for anyone earning more than $73,299 regardless of occupation.
Partners can come to New Zealand but not on open work visas like before. They can only come if they can meet the skilled migrant category as well.
The government originally proposed a higher income threshold for the mid-skilled category of $48,859. This was to align the possibility of a visa renewal without leaving the country with the income required for permanent residence visas under the skilled worker category.
The new rules, therefore, creates a new class of mid-skilled worker earning between $41,538 and $48,859 (roughly $19-24 an hour) who still have no chance of qualifying for permanent residence. This will create huge incentives for workers in this category to pay their employer the difference between their actual salary and the salary needed to reach the higher income threshold required for permanent residence.
There will also be a huge incentive for low-skilled category workers to achieve mid-skilled status by refunding their employer a portion of their wage to take them over the threshold.
Most employers were screaming that the original proposal would have meant that all their workers in the mid-skilled categories would have had to leave the country if the $48,859 threshold had been maintained. Few mid-skilled jobs in New Zealand actually pay that much. We remain a relatively low-wage country.
If the workers had been forced to leave after three years – and couldn’t bring partners – then many potential workers would be asking why come here in the first place? Many workers already here would have been unable to renew their visas and been forced to leave.
So from the employers perspective, these changes will be welcome.
Many workers will also be relieved.
But the fundamental problem with all temporary visa programmes remain.
Because workers are dependent on their employers as sponsors of their visas they have few rights. They can’t complain about the abuse and super-exploitation they are often forced to endure.
This won’t change.
I am not sure why we need a “temporary” work visa category outside working holiday and student visas.
Why can’t anyone who has regular work be able to transition to permanent residence?
There seems to be no logic in keeping people who have lived and worked in this country for years in a legal limbo without the right to transition to a residence.
Why should permanent residence only be allowed for those with higher incomes?
So long as we do have this category of “temporary”, then we need to do everything to increase their legal rights while here.
That must include the right to change jobs. It is good to see the Greens raise this as an issue in their policy.
It could also include the requirement that the employment agreements are forwarded to MBIE, that all wages must be deposited in a bank account, that all pay slips must record details of hours worked, rates of pay and allowances. Wage theft should be treated as a criminal offence.
And we need many more labour inspectors. One good promise the Labour Party has made this election is to double their number.
Anything and everything that empowers workers and enhances their rights when living and working in this country is a good thing to fight for. That is the only route to end the super exploitation of this category of workers and stop employers using this group to undermine our wages and work rights.
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About the author

Mike Treen

National Director of Unite Union

21 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Full agreement with your stand here Mike.

    It seems that profit rules over fairness and humanity now.

    This policy is the race to the bottom our our society will ultimately suffer in a worsening “low wage economy”

    Time to rid the toxic national Government profiteers.

  2. Keepcalmcarryon says:

    Why can’t they all get residence? Because jobs housing and infrastructure is why. Unskilled/low-skilled labour shouldnt be imported at all. The dairy and horticulture industry owners must share their massive slice of the pie with their workers: e.g.train them and Pay them what the nz labour market would dictate.

    • Siobhan says:

      ‘hilariously’ i’ve heard the imported Dairy workers described as ‘skilled’, …though apparently ‘skilled’ and being so highly valued and important to the success of the industry does not mean being paid a decent living wage.

      • mosa says:

        Yeah and the ChCh press have done a story about migrants milking cows and ” living the kiwi dream ”

        Go figure.

  3. savenz says:

    We also have to ask ourselves why do we need to import in cheap labour, when we have a huge amount of unemployment, 93,000 in limbo neither in jobs or on a benefit, burgeoning student loans with little part time work available or even the prospect of a well paid or full time job at the end of it?

    This is an issue independent from migration. The migration issue is actually masking that something is seriously wrong with NZ as a country when we refuse to employ our own people. Is it the workers, the employers, the industries or the government? The reality is probably all of it.

    Government policy over the years have created this individualised profit based industry of education but without concentrating on high paid knowledge or even skills based jobs on the other side. At the same time expensive and time consuming courses are replacing on the job paid training of old like electricity workers, builders etc.

    Many years ago I saw a documentary about the future of paying for tertiary equation, and the researcher concluded that the ones going to university were going to be ‘the rich and the thick’. Unfortunately part of this has come to pass, with paper pushing courses and an education system more geared up to make profit and compete, rather than quality education or practical application. But many at uni are not rich, they are got around this by pushing $50,000 loans on 20 year olds, under written by tax payers.

    In addition in NZ the employees and employee relationship has become more adversarial rather than collaborative with government led by organisations like the business roundtable, running neoliberal agenda.

    An eastern European friend of mine, once said they have a saying in their country ‘ they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work’. All of this seems to be coming to pass in middle class jobs in NZ.

    It might seem more profitable to push some person off a benefit with a WINZ target, but then the person is probably forced to steal to get food etc or take up criminal activities to survive and ends up in prison at $100k per year plus the justice and police costs. Even if you are a neoliberal, what the government is doing does not make any sense from an economic perspective, let alone from a sociological one.

    Likewise bringing in overseas students on bogus courses and allowing them to work on student visas, might be great if they were a post grad doing important research but less so if there are 100,000 doing low level courses and competing against local students for work and courses and local part time workers like parents, etc who no longer have access to part time work.

    Then we now have the ‘full time’ temporary working visas, competing against the students and part time workers like parents, who used to do that low paid manual work.

    No wonder people can’t pay their rents and food anymore and need a 30% WFF or accomodation subsidy from the taxpayers. That’s money that should be spent on health and education, now spent subsidising employers.

    It’s both lowering the amount of jobs available and keeping unfair working conditions like zero hour contracts going strong in this country, while reducing taxes collected and also the tax spend in other areas.

    At the same time as we are importing in low paid workers (and lets face it, how many of these workers are actually working for close to free and paying BACK the wages to get residency).

    NZ workers can’t compete against slave workers and it’s become a depressing spiral.

    It also has little to do with the migrants themselves who are just trying to get a better life for the most part, but will probably be on ACC after getting residency after their exploitation comes home to roost on their health. Or they are sent back home but their earnings are taken by intermediaries that organised their ‘job’.

    The downward spiral of our country continues, in our race to the bottom. I’m also not sure than any of the political parties really understand all the issues and the relationships.

    But one thing for sure is voting National is going to keep the problems escalating and NZ way of life more akin to some sort of 3rd world exploitation model, than equality for all.

  4. Draco T Bastard says:

    I am not sure why we need a “temporary” work visa category outside working holiday and student visas.

    We don’t but the employers want them so as to keep wages down.

    As far as I’m concerned foreign students shouldn’t be allowed to work here at all. They get a visa that allows them to stay here long enough to complete their course but that’s all. In other words, they’d have to be supported from their home country which they will be returning to.

    Why can’t anyone who has regular work be able to transition to permanent residence?

    Why do we even have a permanent residence category?

    If people want to be here permanently then they should be applying for citizenship. The process for getting citizenship provide a time limited visa that allows people to work. If they don’t meet the immigrant criteria in that time then they have to leave when the visa expires.

  5. Mike the Lefty says:

    No surprises there.
    National rapidly succumbed to Warner Brothers bluff over film making for the Hobbit and agreed to change labour laws which cover everyone else.
    So why wouldn’t they cave into the demands of the rural sector for more and more cheap exploitable labour?
    National are not known for their ability to think outside the square.
    Power and electoral survival is their prime concern, nothing else matters.

  6. Cassie says:

    PRIORITIES? & “DIVERSIONS”!
    This is really just a diversion from the truth that mass migrants are taking job opportunities away from native NZ citizens- which the Media LIES about all the time.( called “Gaslighting )

    We have enough of our OWN problems.

    I don’t care about whether migrants are being exploited because they should NOT be being imported.

    I care about OUR OWN young people who leave school and are forced to go on unemployment benefits, made to feel “less than” and have to compete with all these extra imports for jobs..jobs that are fewer & fewer, and that is what YOU should be caring about.
    When I was young we had our pick of jobs. No shameful suicide statistics back then, as there are now.

    ***
    “Globalisation” – a plan devised by the super rich , to benefit only themselves – IS NOT PROGRESS. It has proven DESTRUCTIVE to the lives & wellbeing of our own native citizens.

    It is WRONG to bring in hordes of people of foreign cultures when so many jobs have disappeared due to “outsourcing” and native NZers are jobless.
    It is WRONG to bring in hordes of people of foreign cultures and they get priority of accommodation whilst native NZers are ending up homeless.

    NATIVE NZ CITIZENS COME FIRST.

  7. Zack Brando says:

    National voters seem to like their slave-labor workforce so Bill English wants to keep these slaves coming in. I was listening to a RNZ interview last night where one of the commentators used Queenstown as an example for being pro-immigration. He basically said … ‘we are short hotel and hospitality workers, therefore we need more immigration’.

    We all know they can’t get workers in Queenstown because employees don’t want to live in a city where by necessity they have to sleep 6 in a room while earning nearly minimum-wage. Bill English said, ‘like it or not, we have to provide services to these tourists’. Do we really have to provide services to these tourists?

    I really believe foreign workers are tricked into coming to New Zealand. The truth is coming out though, NZ is a ripoff and a poor place to both live and work.

  8. Takere says:

    Oh well,the new minimum wage is now $41k! Level the playing field for migrant workers competing with NZ workers! That’ll solve the problem and then we’ll be able to remove “quota’s” for migrants working toward residency.

  9. HC says:

    In short, you are (worth) as a human being, what you earn, i.e. get paid.

    How uplifting for all those paid the minimum wage or just above that rate, the system seems to be getting ever so nastier.

    So a highly qualified person who may temporarily only find a low paid job to make ends meet is automatically disqualified, as he is deemed to be too poorly or lowly qualified, even though in the longer run he or she may offer the country much more than a dairy worker who knows how to milk cows.

    This kind of immigration policy seems idiotic to the extreme.

    • Takere says:

      So how do quantify “Subjectivity” when determining someone’s “worth” Einstein?
      Your premise is bullshit within the context you are applying a person’s value to what they do for wages.It should be the same.

  10. bert says:

    A re-post from another blogger on another site, I thought was just too good to pass by…

    “English wants to give priority to Kiwis when it comes to employment….How about reinstating the funding to night school classes which National stopped and allow those on lower incomes to up skill and increase their chances of getting a better job. How about bringing back the apprenticeship schemes to get the those not academically inclined into manual work such as tradesmen or scaffolders, for example. How about increasing the minimum wage so that the gap between benefits and the minimum wage makes it worth while for those on a benefit to actually seek employment. Businesses claim wages as a tax deductible expense so they wont be out of pocket to the full extent of the increase. How about reducing immigration to reduce pressure on housing, infrastructure and the employing of New Zealanders. How about making superannuation and the Gold card entitlements only available to those who stop working, and thereby freeing up jobs for those looking for work. As an incentive to do this, increase the amount of super paid, and provide more cheap services. If those 65 or over feel the need to work, there are plenty of volunteer jobs around. There are too many younger people doing nothing. This does nothing to help NZ going forward and leads to boredom, drugs and crime. Unless current policies change, this trend will continue. However, I feel a lot of people, particularly house owners, wont care. As long as their house value keeps increasing they will think they and NZ are doing well….and they will keep voting accordingly. Surely its time for us to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about what is best for NZ. “

  11. Castro says:

    Yep, migrant workers and their migrant employers will keep exploiting NZ workers by working for and paying less than the minimum wage. Time for a violent uprising Mr. Treen.

    • David says:

      You’re an opportunists, Kiwis just can’t be bothered,they’d perfer to watch Shortland St.Sad state of affairs.

  12. David says:

    If the business can’t make a profit without importing migrant labour on wages and conditions that quite frankly are slightly better than third world ,then the business is uneconomic and should be abandoned.
    Seems to be a modern version of the Pacific blackbirding days.,a disgusted version of slavery.
    The employer’s appear to believe a low wage economy is a good thing,if so the two or three million people living on the Mumbai railway tracks should be happy as.

  13. Marc says:

    Immigration is part of an agenda, to undermine the social fabric of locals, to create endless competition for jobs, to divide and rule a society based on social and ethnic and cultural division, so it is more easily controlled. It is very concerning that some of the left do not understand the game being played here, and still advocate for more liberal immigration, while local workers face a situation where wage and salary rises are frustrated, yes impossible, due to cheap imported labour. Shame on you Mike Treen, to tow the line of the employer lobby.

    • The Weatherman says:

      Very True.

      First they came for….

      And they knew. They know. And they continue to do it. Agriculture, Fisheries… and now young students at the Warehouse.

      Make no mistake, folks. The end game is an abusive system of forced labour; of slavery, covering up that slavery, and reaping the profit of that exploited labour for the benefit of “GDP”. Go economy! But Shhh…. it will be our secret… trust us…

      https://postimg.org/image/7edqeb1bj/

      • The Weatherman says:

        But don’t blame Mike Treen for anything, please. He’s been fighting for workers’ rights for decades.

        The problem around the immigration debate is that the welfare of people – whether local workers and especially temporary migrant workers – is not the central concern.

        If you are on the left, or consider yourself to be, please don’t be sucked into an “us VS them” dialectic.

        Take care of people’s rights, wherever they are from, and there will be no need to artificially play around with immigration numbers.

        Don’t let the various cynical players in the game make this about racism. It’s not. Workers’ rights protections, and a healthy labour inspectorate, will ensure that Kiwis are considered for jobs, more often, and that any shortfall will be made up.

        If only Lord Sauron would concern himself with human rights instead of fake terrorism threats and the lives of others, such as advocates or activists for human rights. That would be a GCSB/SIS that I could almost get behind, if we have to have them!

        • The Weatherman says:

          *a shortfall made up by migrant workers, who should be given the right to stay, and bring their families over too, let me add. But not if they are going to be exploited, and forced to live in over-priced dormitories at eight-to-a-room, having given up their land and assets to travel to New Zealand in the first place.

          Forced labour, unlivable wages, and 4th class living conditions, should not be a prerequisite for New Zealand citizenship – just as having criminally gained wealth should not be allowed to be.

          Let them come, but let them enjoy the freedoms and protections we pride ourselves as having won. No citizen, no resident, no temporary worker left behind.

        • The Weatherman says:

          Because it’s high time we eradicated these social-ecology destroying RATS and other predators from the community, don’t you agree, readers? And hopefully before 2018, let alone 2050!