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Districts responsible for migrant workers’ rights

Human Rights Commission
Media release
26 March, 2008

Rural districts responsible for migrant workers’ rights

Rural communities need to take seriously their responsibility to protect the rights of migrant workers, says the Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

He was speaking at the Timaru Ethnic Council Race Relations Day dinner Tuesday evening.

The Timaru district, like many rural areas has seen a substantial increase in migrant workers. The number of work permits for migrant workers for 13 low wage sectors in New Zealand has jumped tenfold in the past five years.

This week more than 15,000 seasonal workers are in the Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough needs 3000 workers for the pruning season and the Bay of Plenty’s kiwifruit growers will need 8600 seasonal workers, with at least 3500 recruited directly from overseas. Southland and South Canterbury increasingly rely on migrant workers for the dairy and fishing industries.

Mr de Bres said, “Pastoral care for these workers presents particular challenges. A recent report of an Ashburton farmer saying she had banned three Romanian farm workers from speaking their own language at work is a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, however well intentioned in terms of encouraging them to learn English.”

He referred to a further incident reported in the New Zealand Herald of qualified Filipino nurses working in ‘slave labour’ conditions in Northland having incurred major debts to recruitment agents and being bonded to work for up to three years at low wages in rest homes.

He said, “It is both an employer and a community responsibility that these workers are looked after. We have learnt that people integrate into the community best when they are provided with a little help to settle, be it through social support or language teaching, as well as through recognition of their own language, culture and social contribution.”

Migrants who felt welcome would settle better and if they later left, they would tell others that they had been treated well during their sojourn. By respecting the human rights of migrant workers rural districts, lacking workers to sustain their economies, could be assured that such workers would be happy to live there and return.


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