NZ must do more on exploited migrant labourers: US State Department
By Suze Metherell
July 31 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand needs to significantly boost its efforts to protect vulnerable migrant workers against exploitative employers, says the US Department of State, in its latest human trafficking report.
Migrant and foreign workers, in particular people from China, India, the Philippines, countries in the Pacific, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, are at risk of exploitative conditions, including forced labour in New Zealand's agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, construction, and hospitality sectors, or as domestic workers, according to the Trafficking in Persons 2015 report by the State Department published this month.
"Some foreign workers are charged excessive and escalating recruitment fees, experience unjustified salary deductions, non-or-underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, restrictions on their movement, and have their passports confiscated and contracts altered," the report said. "The government's victim protection efforts remain weak" and recommends New Zealand "significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, especially offences committed by recruitment agencies and employers who subject workers to debt bondage or involuntary servitude through deceptive recruitment, non-or underpayment of wages, and threats of deportation".
Other workers may arrive in New Zealand and find their job conditions different to what they were promised, but are too afraid to complain, the report said.
Earlier this year the government looked to crack down on employers who exploit migrant workers, passing the Immigration Amendment Act (No 2). Under the new law, employers who exploit temporary workers face jail sentences of up to seven years and up to $100,000 in fines. It also introduces penalties for those who exploit legal temporary or unlawful workers and are "reckless as to their immigration status", with the possibility of five year jail sentences and up to $100,000 in fines, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said in April at the time it was passed.
A Regulatory Impact Statement by Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment concerning the new legislation said the changes would help provide clarity in an area that is difficult to prosecute. It said since 2010 there had only been two successful prosecutions concerning exploited migrant workers, while over the past two years there had been 110 complaints alleging exploitation, which had led to five investigations.
The US report doesn't make mention of the new legislation but does note Parliament's efforts to boost the protection of workers while on foreign vessels in New Zealand waters. The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Act requires all foreign charter vessels to carry the New Zealand flag from next May, forcing them to abide by local health and labour standards.
The government also established a new immigration agency intelligence team to "profile and assess risk indicators of forced labour and labour exploitation in the Canterbury region" and added 50 inspectors nationwide to target vulnerable sectors, the US report notes.
Foreign women from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam were at risk of "coercive or forced prostitution" as were some international students, while Pacific Island and Maori girls and boys were at risk of sex trafficking in street prostitution or by gangs, the report notes.
The Ministry of Justice website notes "the argument that trafficking in humans and prostitution are inexorably linked is in part due to policy decisions made by the United States" but the Prostitution Law Review Committee "considers that in the case of New Zealand, there is no link between the sex industry and human trafficking."
New Zealand retained the highest tier 1 ranking, which it has had since it was included in the report in 2004, although that status has been under threat owing to a difference between how the US and New Zealand define trafficking, the justice website notes. Local authorities define trafficking as international movement while the US defines it as crossing state borders or underage prostitution.