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Woodhouse: Prevent People Trafficking Conference 2014

Michael Woodhouse

5 JUNE, 2014

Introduction to Prevent People Trafficking Conference 2014

I’d like to start by thanking the hosts of this conference – the Salvation Army, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, and the New Zealand Police – for inviting me to open the two day Prevent People Trafficking Conference.

I’d like to welcome the two keynote speakers - Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland from the London Metropolitan Police’s Special Crime Directorate on Human Exploitation and Organised Crime; and Phil Marshall, a Director of the Mekong Club, a Hong Kong-based private sector initiative against modern forms of slavery. Both men have travelled long distances to be at the conference and I know that the information they share with you will be extremely valuable. I would also like to thank Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy Marie Damour for her work in this area.

It goes without saying that people trafficking is a heinous crime and a grave violation of human rights. The United Nations has stated that thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers every year, both in their own countries and abroad.

In New Zealand, we have been very lucky – to date, our authorities have not identified or verified any case of people trafficking. But this does not mean that we can be complacent. The Government remains alert to the possibility of people trafficking occurring here, and we continue to take steps to ensure we have the measures in place to not only punish those who perpetrate this terrible crime, but also to protect and support victims.

New Zealand has effected stringent and comprehensive anti-trafficking laws as part of the Crimes Act, and this includes measures to punish those who arrange entry, reception, concealment or harbouring of persons through coercion and/or deception. The penalties for trafficking – a maximum penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment and or a $500,000 fine – reflect how seriously we view the crime.

The sex industry and labour in the horticulture/viticulture industries have been identified as high risk sectors for trafficking in the New Zealand context. INZ has a role in educating employers to ensure they are aware of their legal responsibilities and undertakes enforcement activities in these industries to ensure compliance with this and other Acts. In addition, these industries are regulated via policy and legislation that allow transparency and access to these industries by government officials who are, therefore, well placed to detect any trafficking activity.

Government agencies, NGOs and community groups – including many of you here today - have been involved in significant work to raise awareness of possible people trafficking and to ensure assistance is available for any victims identified.

I applaud your efforts to date, because there is no doubt in my mind that communities have an important role to play in helping identify and support victims of trafficking or migrant exploitation.

People can help simply by being aware of the signs or indicators of trafficking or exploitation; knowing how to report potential cases; and being aware of how to interact with potential victims. Two of your hosts today, Immigration New Zealand and the Salvation Army, have of course worked with Stop the Traffik Aotearoa New Zealand to develop online training to assist people in doing all of these things.

While we have been fortunate so far in the trafficking space, there is no denying that migrant exploitation has been an increasing issue for New Zealand in the last year or so.

As you well know, migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable section of the workforce as they are less likely to be aware of their rights and entitlements than their New Zealand colleagues. Exploitation of that vulnerability – such as paying migrant workers less than the minimum wage, or making them work excessive hours – is not welcome and will not be tolerated by this Government.

I have been very energetic in impressing upon migrant communities that in New Zealand our laws and those charged with upholding and enforcing them can be trusted. Exploited persons should speak up confident that the focus will be on the perpetrators, not the victims.

The Government introduced a Bill in late 2013 that imposes significant penalties on employers who exploit migrants working here lawfully. The law already provides penalties for exploitative employers of unlawful migrants and it’s only right that there is consistent treatment for employers of lawful migrants. Exploitative migrant employers could also face deportation if the offence was committed within 10 years of gaining residence.

Strengthening the sanctions and judicial process to expedite prosecutions and provide a strong deterrent is one plank of the Government’s strategy to prevent migrant exploitation.

Sitting alongside this, work is under way to improve our ability to detect and investigate employers who engage in migrant exploitation.

Government agencies, in particular Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate, are paying particular attention to the Canterbury region, where there has been an influx of migrant workers to assist with the post-earthquake rebuild. The focus is primarily on identification and prevention of labour exploitation and I was extremely pleased to be able to announce recently – along with my colleague, Labour Minister Simon Bridges – that the Government is spending more than $7 million over the next four years to do just that.

The money will be used to boost the number of labour inspectors and immigration officers dealing with the Canterbury rebuild and will result in an extra 20 investigations or serious or high-profile cases over an initial 18-month period.

There is also a significant amount of work going on to educate and empower migrant workers and their employers to understand and act on their rights and obligations.

Just a couple of weeks ago I launched the latest resources developed by Immigration New Zealand’s Settlement Unit, targeted to migrant workers and employers in the aged care sector. The resources include information on minimum employment rights, health and safety, improving workplace communications and where to go for further settlement support.

The Settlement Unit has previously released similar guides for the dairy and construction sectors, and for Pacific communities. The guides have been extremely popular and are proving to be valuable resources for employers and employees. I believe there are copies available here today and I encourage those of you who haven’t seen the guides to have a look.

The final plank in the Government’s strategy to prevent migrant exploitation is ensuring that we improve our knowledge of migrant exploitation, and our understanding of the effectiveness of our responses. To this end, MBIE has put in place a programme of research work to better understand the extent of migrant exploitation, sources of migrant vulnerability, and evidence around effective interventions to mitigate vulnerability. You will be hearing later today about the first piece of work undertaken as part of that research programme.

I’d like to finish up by thanking you all for your attendance at this conference. There is no doubt that we all need to work together to combat people trafficking and migrant exploitation, and I’m enormously encouraged to see the number and calibre of the people here who are doing just that. I wish you all the best for what I’m sure will be an enjoyable and constructive two days.

Thank you.


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