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Reducing the exploitation of migrant workers

Temporary work visa proposals could go a long way to reducing the exploitation of migrant workers and to protecting the working rights of everyday working people

The Government has announced consultation for new changes to temporary work visas for migrants today that seek to better match skills to specific needs for different industries and regions while protecting the rights of everyday working people.

The changes

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says the proposed changes affect several visas. All employer assisted temporary work visas will see a reduction in application pathways and accreditations take place. The Essential Skills in Demand Lists will be replaced with Regional Skills Shortage Lists to better signal skill shortages in the regions. Sector agreements will be introduced to address longer-term job demand issues so jobs are better matched with New Zealanders rather than industries becoming reliant on exploiting migrant workers to stay competitive. This will take a concerted effort that includes immigration, welfare, and education systems. Exactly how this will look will be decided on through the consultation process.

Due to New Zealand’s recent embarrassing history of the exploitation of migrant workers, and a second human trafficking case emerging, the changes are being welcomed by FIRST Union General Secretary Dennis Maga.

“With the horrific stories we hear of migrant exploitation through workers seeking solace within our union, and the work that our affiliate organisation, UNEMIG tirelessly does to correct some basic human rights, we are relieved to see a more of an orchestrated effort to better place workers, New Zealand and migrants, into where they are needed while also better protecting their work and personal lives.”

Mr Maga says the accreditation, especially of labour-hire companies will go far to address some of the largest areas of exploitation.

“The new framework includes more planning for the future while better addressing the current situation, which isn’t pretty. The cases in the media are just the ones we have been able to go public with, there are many, many more who are far too scared to speak out. This will go further to protecting these workers in the first place from unethical companies that seek to heavily control the lives of others to increase profits.”

He says the sector agreements could raise the bar for training, recruitment, and employment in industries that are experiencing labour and skills shortages.

“We know the reliance on the exploitation of migrant workers has driven down wages and education for all while further disenfranchising those coming here to seek a better life for themselves and their families. To continue to exploit migrants won’t fix the genuine skills shortages that have been created by the reliance on exploited migrants. We have a lot of knowledge in this area that we look forward to sharing during the consultation process.”

Mr Maga says the move reaches towards a better global effort on assisting migrant workers.

“We also wholly support the move for New Zealand to align itself with the United Nations Global Migrant Compact, a global effort to share information and resources better ensures migrants are where they are needed the most.”

He adds any businesses concerned about the visa changes need to look to the future.

“While the changes may require more investment in the beginning, it will also create a lot more future certainty both for workers and employers.”

These proposals will impact the following six temporary work visa categories:

· Essential Skills including the Essential Skills in Demand Lists (ESID)

· Approval-in-Principle

· Talent (Accredited Employer)

· Work to Residence – Long-term Skill Shortage List occupation

· Silver Fern (Practical Experience)

· Silver Fern (Job Search)


Employer-assisted temporary work visas are generally those in which an employer can demonstrate through labour market tests that there are no suitable New Zealanders available to do the work. Around 20 per cent (or 47,000) of the 230,000 temporary work visas issued in 2017/18 were employer-assisted (the rest were issued for a range of reasons including to working holiday makers and family members of New Zealanders and recent migrants).


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