Free the ten Chinese construction workers – the Bill of Rights applies to everyone

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On April 1, the lawyer representing nine Chinese construction workers being held at Mt Eden Prison, the Honourable Matthew Robson, gained access to them only after getting the assistance of Green MP Ricardo Menendez. A tenth worker is being held elsewhere and we have not been told where.

MPs have a legal right to access prisoners at any time although it is a right that does not usually have to be invoked. It was invoked this time because the government departments responsible refused to even acknowledge Matt Robson’s repeated requests for a visit.

But we were only allowed one-hour with nine workers and a translator having to be used. We could only find out a fraction of what we needed to know to try and stop the planned deportations.

In addition, in a petty act of cruelty, none of these workers had been allowed to call their families to tell them what was happening to them and why their phones weren’t being answered.

Just before arriving at the prison we found out that two of the workers were scheduled to be deported that night and the rest over the next few weeks. The authorities are simply ignoring the fact they now have representation and wanted time for us to lodge an appeal based on the need for further investigations into migrant worker exploitation and human trafficking.

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(Update: One worker escaped custody on the way to the airport but subsequently handed himself back into the custody of the police. This was clearly an act that shows the stress and desperation they have been subject to.)

Both Ricardo Mendenez and Matt Robson wrote urgent appeals after the visit to the Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi to try and stop the deportations and win freedom for the men.

This cruel and heartless story unfolded as follows. As you  read the story, think about the fact that these are just construction workers who had been sold a lie, not a criminal gang.

On 23 March, 10 migrant workers were arrested at various building sites in West Auckland. Unite Union decided it wanted to see if it could offer some assistance to these workers because we had some knowledge of the widespread migrant labour exploitation that exists in this industry.

It took several days before we could even find out where they were. I read a media report of the arrests and went to the Auckland Police Station on Friday, March 26. The office staff could not tell me if any were held there because it was an Immigration issue. I rang the Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi’s office at 1 pm and the call went to the answerphone.

I left an urgent message which wasn’t responded to. The answerphone message gave a number for urgent matters. I rang that number but couldn’t get through because it wouldn’t accept calls from a mobile phone!

I kept ringing various people with connections and eventually got a call after 5pm from someone from Enforcement at Immigration NZ who said they were being held at Mt Eden Prison and Corrections New Zealand needed to approve a visit. All I could get from him was that he would not object to a visit if I requested it.

Now, I had to try and get hold of someone in Corrections to get a visit over the weekend. Eventually, we got to visit 9 detainees on Sunday March 28 for two hours.

What we discovered was that the workers were not even questioned about if or how they were being exploited by employers in New Zealand or human trafficking agents in China. We discovered they had no chance to get legal representation. And they had not been able to call anyone at home to tell them what was happening. I complained about the lack of phone calls to the Minister of Corrections office immediately after the visit but nothing had changed by the time of the second visit.

While we were there and had made clear that we were now the legal representatives for the workers the police turned up at the prison to take one of the workers we were interviewing to the airport for deportation that night. We tried to object and argue but it was made clear to us that the police would take this person.

However, the Chinese authorities told Immigration NZ that the prisoners needed to be held in isolation for two weeks before they could board a plane.

Only two-weeks ago, I attended a two-day conference at parliament sponsored by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) headed “Take the next step: Collaborating together to end modern day slavery and worker exploitation within Aotearoa New Zealand”. The two government Ministers responsible Kris Faafoi, and Michael Wood, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, had pledged to stamp out these forms of exploitation.

Again and again it was explained at the conference that the visa the worker was on was not important. What was important was if the workers were receiving the minimum legal entitlements in New Zealand and if they had been forced to pay large fees to trafficking agents to get the visas and jobs.
We were also told that the government would make it easier for workers subject to exploitation to complain and not be victimised if they do, including being given visas whilst investigations were happening.

This is what is on the MBIE website:

Information for migrants

Some employers know that migrant workers can be afraid to report exploitation at work, especially if they are:

  • working when their visa does not allow them to
  • working New Zealand unlawfully because their visa has expired
  • worried they will have to leave New Zealand.

Some employers use this fear to take away your rights. This is wrong. The New Zealand Government wants to stop employers from exploiting migrants. We want you to report any exploitation at work.

If you report exploitation, you may be able to stay in New Zealand while we investigate and prosecute your employer. We may let you complete your visit. This can happen even if you have been working without the right visa.

These principles should apply whether the workers came to MBIE for help or were discovered through the MBIE’s own investigation process like these workers seem to have been.

All nine of these workers paid an average of $20,000 to get their visas. Many were promised work visas but only given holiday visas or assured that it was easy to change their visas once they got to New Zealand and found a sponsor which was a lie.

That constitutes human trafficking. But MBIE, the ministry responsible for stamping out human trafficking does’t seem interested.

The reason for this is that MBIE is also the ministry responsible for promoting immigration to New Zealand and creating the problem in the first place. Pre-Covid, Immigration New Zealand was issuing a quarter of a million temporary work visas a year and entire industries, like construction, had become dependent on migrant labour. 300,000 workers were here on one form of visa or another with little chance of going home easily and safely. Again and again, audits done by MBIE of employers in these industries found that the big majority failed to pay minimum legal entitlements but never faced legal sanctions.

Visas are often tied to employers in a form of bonded labour. The subcontracting system that operates in these industries also means that the head contractor gets the lowest price being bid for a job and has no responsibility for ensuring minimum legal entitlements are observed. Cash jobs without written agreements or tax paid become the norm at the bottom of the food chain.

Except for the high profile Masala Restaurants case, almost no employer has ever been prosecuted for employing workers on the wrong visa or breaching minimum legal entitlements or failing to pay tax.

Immigration NZ issued some of this group of ten workers 5-year multiple entry visas just two days after they applied. Does that not seem suspicious? Why isn’t MBIE interested in investigating how that was able to happen? Is there corruption within their own department?

MBIE seems to see its job and supplying cheap labour to New Zealand industries to use and abuse as they see fit. They seem to see their job as being to protect bosses and prosecute workers.

New Zealand needs a government agency independent of MBIE that is dedicated to protecting workers and prosecuting bosses rather than the opposite.

Anyone in New Zealand needs to be able to access legal help regardless of their immigration status. The Bill of Rights applies to everyone.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Pity the Green Party MP’s and unions are not on board with helping the large amounts of people in NZ that don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on plane tickets to get around the world and work illegally. Woke and Greens seem to think that the average Kiwi needs to work harder, longer and pay more taxes so that the foreign illegal cash workers can be supported more. I guess when you house turns leaky and is a pile of s**t after purchase, you can feel good that at least you helped criminal gangs and illegal building labour, with your house purchase that you can no longer live in.

    They need to deport the Chinese cash workers to send a message not to come to NZ and pay the money. If they stay in NZ the message is keep people trafficking to NZ.

    NZ is a small country of only 5 million people with billions of potential cash workers coming here from around the world, it does not take much imagination to work out what the future of NZ is going to be if this behaviour is allowed to prevail in the NZ workforce.

    A lot of the people working illegally pay a lot of money to get into the country to work illegally and eventually many things go wrong. It should be a priority of a country to STOP people getting into the country in the first place – for their own safety and not giving money to criminal gangs. It is happening all over the world, and the weakest countries have the most problems. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-31871532

    The Chinese builders can testify from China about what happened to them but who know what they are saying is true or not because their primary goal will be to get NZ residency.

    NZ is a soft touch and the woke are encouraging people trafficking into NZ.

    I guess we need more if this, sponsor a Kiwi kid.

    “Since 2013, thousands of generous New Zealanders have responded to the needs of children living in poverty through Variety’s Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme.

    Each child on the programme is matched with someone like you who provides support for items such as clothing, shoes, bedding, school uniforms, stationery, school camp, sport and performing arts, as well as medical expenses.

    Funding is directed to meet the specific needs of the individual child you sponsor.

    For just $50 a month, your help as a sponsor will have a profound impact on the child’s health, education and wellbeing.

    Children across New Zealand are waiting for sponsors now. ”
    https://www.variety.org.nz/donate/sponsor-a-child/

    Keep supporting the overseas cash workers Greens! While NZ taxpayers pays the 56 figure MP salary for more privileged migrants helping other privileged migrants into NZ welfare, while kids in NZ are now having to be sponsored by charities!

      • Nope there has been a working poor explosion of poverty, and children in poverty. They biggest growing group in poverty is working parents with two kids on wages with a mortgage apparently. https://www.pundit.co.nz/content/invisible-children?rq=children Meanwhile increasingly NZ workers use services and pay no taxes, nobody trains locals anymore, and building sites are full of people taking out insulation, Steel and what have you after council inspections to be reused on the next job. Tradies in NZ, tend to dob their employers in who do illegal activities as they understand that it is wrong, and going to result in massive failures going forward! There is a reason that foreign cash workers are taking over construction and the relationship between new build failures becoming the norm and not even talked about by government who bury their heads in the sand.

    • @savenz

      What a load of white supremacist racist bullshit.

      You need to stop scapegoating migrant workers for this country’s problems.

      Why don’t you open your eyes, if it wasn’t for migrant labour our run down hospitals would be barely staffed at all. Not to mention our agricultural sector which is also heavily dependent on migrant labour.

      As for your racist dog whistle that ‘privileged’ migrant workers are taking resources off kiwi kids (read the children of white settler New Zealanders), who do you think is building up all these resources? Not only that, but not having residency, and despite paying taxes just like the rest of us, migrant bonded workers under temporary visas don’t get to use the infrastructure they are helping maintain. No free health care or pensions for them. When we finish with them we deport them like so much unwanted rubbish. Australian 501s are treated better.
      If these workers are good enough to work for us, they are good enough to live with us. If they are good enough to work for us, then they are good enough to vote and join unions and all the other rights working people should have. If they are good enough to work for us then they are good enough to be able to leave a shitty employer if they need to. If they are good enough to work for us then then they are good enough to enjoy all the rights that free non-bonded working people enjoy, including rights as citizens, that they are currently denied.

      Ten working men are being held in Mt. Eden without any legal recourse or right for working!?

      What was their crime again?

      Being illegal workers?

      And how did they get put into this position?

      My guess is just like the Samoan workforce during the era of the ‘Dawn Raids’ their shitty employers didn’t renew their visas.

      An society that relys on a bonded temporary migrant workforce and ‘illegal workers’ is a sick society.

      There should be no such thing as “illegal workers”. And if there is such a thing, it should be their employers behind bars not the workers. That the employers are not behind bars, tells you something. That the lucrative system of unofficial workers, (read overstayers), with no legal rights at all, if not actually encouraged, is at the least sanctioned by the New Zealand state.

      • Yawn. Apparently any who doesn’t agree with the woke cash workers situation is a white supremecist. Even more alarming is that the woke seem to ignore the situation that we have already had with a certain lone wolf racist arriving in NZ specifically to massacre people in NZ in race related terror attacks. This ain’t the 70’s and this ain’t dawn raids.

        • No mate. It’s fundamentally impossible making children better off by making migrants worse off.

          I have to agree with Patrick. This the shit that makes me believe in a possible left-wing assault on climate change that’s more in line with shoot the barstards.

          Now your chance to redeem yourself. Get imaginative.

        • @saveWhtey

          As for your dirty slur that I and others you label ‘Woke’ ignore the Australian racist Brenton Tarrant coming here and murdering 51 New Zealand migrants and citizens of Islamic faith.

          Where the hell did that come from?

          Your intolerance and hate is begining to show.

          It is you who ignore the racist immigration polices, you defend, that discriminate against Asian and Pacifica immigrants but grant white majority settler Australian citizens, including scum like Brenton Tarrant, automatic free entry into New Zealand to live and work here as long as they like and even collect benefits and free health care.

  2. They are here illegally, taking up NZ resources, requiring houses, roads, healthcare etc. Ever wonder why we have a housing shortage? Ever wonder why we have so many homeless? And how about our unemployed, or the precariat poor? They have to compete with people like these illegal 10.

    The modern slavery part will quickly stop if 1) we cut down massively on immigration and 2) aggressively deport overstayers like these 10.

    Deport them.

    • While there are 141,000 unemployed or under-employed kiwis in Aotearoa then there is no need for any workers on temporary visas at all. Many of those 141,000 unemployed kiwis are people who aren’t prepared to be exploited by NZ bosses until they are paid realistically.

      Mike you need to support jobs for Kiwis and better wages for kiwis. Supporting migrant labour is the complete opposite of that.

      These guys were prepared to pay $20,000 to take a job from an unemployed kiwi, so they are hardly victims in this. No sympathy.

      Better you name and shame the employers and introduce them to some kiwis in need of a job.

  3. Come to NZ, do illegal activities, bring the family, never leave and appeal for years to stay, piling up our justice courts in NZ, so that others who actually are NZ residents waiting years for justice and the courts! No justice for the victims of all the people who are ruined by the drug industry and bankrupted by poor building practises in NZ with the increasing criminals operating internationally.

    “An immigrant family faces being torn apart after its patriarch was convicted for drug smuggling.
    In a new judgement released today, Supreme Court judges dismissed Mr Guo’s application for leave to appeal against his deportation.”
    https://queencitylaw.co.nz/qcl-wins-deportation-appeal/

    The woke and lawyers helping the ‘renters’ by getting as many illegal migrants to stay in NZ (who have so much money they can be paying $50k just to get here) and encouraging cash labour in building to undercut legal construction workers. Sounds fucked up!

    I’m all for throwing the book at those who helped get these builders here, including the person who processed their immigration visas being stood down and investigated immediately, but the builders need to go ASAP. We have multiple crisis in NZ and don’t need the distraction every second on yet more foreign cash workers sob stories who have massive political and union support while the average worker in NZ gets nothing and is having their kids sponsored by Variety now.

  4. My concern over this issue is the abusive employers. If those workers were exploited, they need to be compassionately returned home. But the employers who obtained work permits need to lose the right to obtain work permits forever. Their own immigration status should be reviewed too, if they are not yet citizens – we don’t need any more exploiting assholes.

    • The government threw these guys in jail just to protect their own little immigrant scam. It’s the worst type of corporate bailout that’s possible in New Zealand.

      It’s the smirks that really do it for me. The smirks Labour MPs do are functionally indistinguishable from the ones National do.

      Every policy has to hit hard, relieve people’s anxieties and bring us all together against those that seek to exploit us and this nation.

      Absolutely no one who nutures, designs, implement policy and watches grow the proper way would ever smirk like that.

  5. These are the new Dawn Raids.

    Put behind bars for trying to make living, with no legal redress?

    If we really need these workers to keep our economy going then they should have the same legal rights as all other workers. No temporary work visas. No bond to one employer, full human rights.

    If these workers are good enough to work here, then they are good enough to live here.

    In this country temporary migrant workers are bonded to one employer whose visas are renewed, (or not), at their employers’ discretion.

    Migrant workers are not free workers. Under New Zealand law covering migrant workers they are bonded to one employer, and unable to leave that employer without their work visa being revoked. (Bonded labour is another word for slave labour)

    It is why employers like this type of workforce, to make sure that they have as little human rights as possible.

    A bonded workforce hurts all workers, being as it is, a competive pressure keeping all workers wages low.

    • And how with zero taxes coming will NZ be able to afford the houses, infrastructure and welfare for billions of potential workers coming into NZ that Patrick O’Dea seem to think are a good idea. Look at the facts of how many people are coming and the level of skill they are bringing.

      “Zara’s mother, Aileen, a nursing support worker, came to New Zealand first on a student visa in 2014. She was joined by her machine operator husband, Arnold, 41, two years later after she got her work visa.

      They have another daughter, Zia, 8, and a son, Aaron, 15, who have also come as dependent children of worker visitor visa holders.

      “We didn’t think Zara needed a visa at birth to remain with us because she’s born in New Zealand … she didn’t have a passport and wasn’t travelling anywhere,” Aileen said.

      A request for a visa for Zara was lodged after her interim visa had expired.”

      For every support worker, labourer, chef there can be a spouse existing children and maternity leave when more kids arrive. So our health system, schools, roads, housing have to provide health care for 5 new people into NZ on the back of a support worker! No wonder the health system is overloaded!

      Same with superannuation, migration was supposed to help our ageing population, instead the opposite has happened and there are more Asian pensioners in NZ awaiting free superannuation that Maori and Pacific Island pensioners combined. NZ lazy immigration and woke wingers are destroying social welfare in NZ by overloading our country with foreign demand for our free social welfare services.

    • “If these workers are good enough to work here, then they are good enough to live here.”

      Who decided that these people were good enough to work here? The middlemen who took their money and organised the wrong visas for them? The dishonest employers who knew they were illegal and treated them accordingly? Or the workers themselves who lived outside the law, were exploited month after month and never chose to return home? Maybe it is better to be exploited in NZ than work in the emerging superpower that is China. The workers can claim they were exploited, but how do we know that did not choose the illegal route because they would not qualify to work here legally?

      As for putting them behind bars, maybe they might pose a flight risk.
      https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/439726/illegal-chinese-worker-fled-custody-on-way-to-airport

      Or maybe they are just looking for any excuse to stay.
      https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2021/04/illegal-chinese-workers-face-retribution-back-in-china-lawyer.html

    • “Multicultural Council of Rangitikei and Wanganui president Pushpa Prasad said Māori should work on helping themselves get out of poverty rather than worrying about a small number of refugees.

      “We are chucking money in a leaky bucket or in a bottomless pit,” she said. “Never mind how much you dump in there it still won’t be enough unless people stand up by themselves and go and start fixing things for themselves or looking after themselves.”

      Ms Prasad, who moved to New Zealand from Fiji about 30 years ago and lives in Whanganui, said the city was putting in the work and would be prepared to accept refugees next year – housing crisis or not.”

      https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1908/S00006/focus-on-housing-squeeze-not-refugees-whanganui-mayor.htm

  6. While there are 141,000 unemployed or under-employed kiwis in Aotearoa then there is no need for any workers on temporary visas at all. Many of those 141,000 unemployed kiwis are people who aren’t prepared to be exploited by NZ bosses until they are paid realistically.

    Mike you need to support jobs for Kiwis and better wages for kiwis. Supporting migrant labour is the complete opposite of that.

    These guys were prepared to pay $20,000 to take a job from an unemployed kiwi, so they are hardly victims in this. No sympathy.

    Better you name and shame the employers and introduce them to some kiwis in need of a job.

  7. While there are 141,000 unemployed or under-employed kiwis in Aotearoa then there is no need for any workers on temporary visas at all. Many of those 141,000 unemployed kiwis are people who aren’t prepared to be exploited by NZ bosses until they are paid realistically.

    Mike you need to support jobs for Kiwis and better wages for kiwis. Supporting migrant labour is the complete opposite of that.

    These guys were prepared to pay $20,000 to take a job from an unemployed kiwi, so they are hardly victims in this. No sympathy.

    Better you name and shame the employers and introduce them to some kiwis in need of a job.

  8. Migrants rights are workers rights!

    More than 300,000 workers in New Zealand are migrant workers. They make up 15% of New Zealand’s total workforce. New Zealand benefits enormously from having these temporary migrant workers here. Both New Zealand’s health system and our agricultural sector are heavily dependent on these workers, without them both sectors would collapse.
    It is imperative that New Zealanders, especially our union movement, need to stand together with our migrant worker brothers and sisters to defend their human rights.
    An injury to one is an injury to all.

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