The government has promised to continue allowing New Zealand bosses to employ a huge number of workers on temporary visas with no right to change employer and little chance of transitioning to permanent residency.
New Zealand has one of the highest percentages of such vulnerable workers in the world.
According to MBIE, the government agency responsible, there are a quarter of a million people on one form of temporary work visa or another. There are also 100,000 people here on student visas, most of whom work.
That’s well over 300,000 people able to be used and abused by New Zealand bosses.
That is equal to around 15% of the current New Zealand workforce. Whole industries and sectors of the economy operate with double that percentage or more.
The system is rife with exploitation. It cannot function in any other way when worker visas are tied to particular employers. A widespread call from unions and migrant worker rights advocates for that change to be made has been ignored. The main work vias will continue to keep these workers in a form of bonded labour unable to change employer.
Instead, 30-50,000 employers will be allowed to register as accredited employers.
There will be a simplified system of employing workers from overseas. Essentially there will be two categories. One for those earning above the median wage of $25 an hour ($52,000 a year) and one for those earning less. Those earning less will need a labour market test like now. But that test won’t be required for higher paid jobs outside the main cities.
Those earning less will have to leave for at least one year after a maximum of three years. This change was brought in by National and has been kept by this government. The lower-paid category was stopped in recent changes by the National Party government from bringing partners and children. They will now be able to do that but the partner needs their own work visa to work which wasn’t required before National’s change. We can assume wost won’t have that visa and will only get a visitors visa end up working under the table jobs to make the most of their three-year maximum stay.
There are many thousands of workers who have been here a decade or more on temporary work visas who had a chance of progressing to residency when they were enticed to come and study or work here will now progressively be forced out of the country. Many will have children born and raised here who have only known New Zealand as home.
At the same time as the floodgates have been kept open for temporary visas, The current government cut the numbers being given permanent residence by about 10,000 a year or around 20-30%. This is nearly all from the skilled worker category. This is madness given the desperate need for skilled labour. I wrote about this a few months ago.
Yet at the same time, the total number of people coming on temporary visas is continuing to increase. So the annual net migration gain from the flow of permanent and long-term numbers entering and leaving New Zealand each year remains at near-record levels.
This simply evidences the promotion and maintenance of a huge number of vulnerable temporary visa holder able to be exploited easily is government policy.
It also means that every party that is part of this government lied to the electorate about the need for “controlling” immigration.
Before the election, there was about a 1% population gain each year from immigration. This number can be planned for without much difficulty. Even in a major city like Auckland, it is only about 2%. There is no reason to blame immigrants for the housing crisis or failures of public transport. That is the result of the government failing to invest in a meaningful way. But each of the governing parties in this government promised to reduce this number and they lied.
But what this government has done is kept the overall increase more or less the same while cutting the permanent residence number and increasing the temporary residence number. This is probably the worst possible way to approach the issue.
Because New Zealand has had a net loss of its permanent resident population each year for some decades, it has needed to import residents from abroad. Foreign-born New Zealand residents make up 25% of the total population. Every migrant community has thousands of people who have been brought to New Zealand under false pretenses to work or study. They were told they would have the chance to transition to permanent residence and it was a lie. They have upended their lives, invested tens of thousands of dollars in education and training. They have lived here for a decade or more with stable jobs and brought up families.
If a government gave this group of people permanent residence it would make not add a single digit to the annual inward migrant flow. That is the humanitarian thing to do. But it would bind that migrant community to the party in government for life. The Tories would never be able to be elected to office again.
The permanent residences visas being issued is now so low the government has increased the salary level for those able to transition from work to residence from $55,000 to $79,560 for new applicants. This essentially excludes nearly every worker coming to New Zealand from ever accessing permanent residency.
The importation of hundreds of thousands of workers willing to work for minimum or sub-minimum wages is designed to force the overall wage level down. It is designed to allow the freshwater degraders and methane creators in the dairy industry to continue to operate profitably. They can continue to avoid increasing the wages of workers in the dairy industry to levels needed to actually attract the labour they need rather than import it from the Philippines.
If we need truck drivers, dairy farmworkers, hotel and hospitality staff, agricultural workers, then we should allow them to migrate to New Zealand permanently with all the rights permanent residents have. This must begin with the right to change their employer. This was allowed for the Christchurch construction workers after endemic exploitation was discovered. But the truth is every single industry investigated by MBIE, the government agency responsible for immigration and enforcing minimum labour standards, was found non-compliant with minimum legal standards. This is the nature of capitalism.
Indentured labour must end now. No worker should be bound to a single employer. All workers need a pathway to residency.