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Migrant Workers Must Not Fall Into The Cracks During Coronavirus Pandemic Response

The Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), Migrante Aotearoa and the Indian Workers Association (IWA) have highlighted the difficulties facing migrant workers in New Zealand due to the coronavirus pandemic and are calling on the Government to include protections for migrant workers in any package of measures designed to avoid the worst impacts of the outbreak.

"We desperately need compassionate measures to support migrant workers as part of the Government’s coronavirus pandemic action plan," said Mikee Santos, UNEMIG coordinator and chairperson of MIGRANTE.

"They are working in one of the most vulnerable sectors in the country, with work visas tied to individual sites of employment, and those could be affected by the outbreak."

The most recent figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that at the end of November 2019, there were over 210,000 people in New Zealand on migrant work visas, making up around 45% of all migrants. These workers could face catastrophe if their jobs are affected by the pandemic and they lose income or hours of work, Santos warns, noting that migrant workers lack common employment protections and could face issues remaining in the country.

"Migrants are here to help build our country and contribute to its growth, and it’s only fair that we look after them in a crisis like this," said Mr Santos.

"Filipino migrant builders, for example, stay as a group in their accommodation facilities, and they should be offered appropriate self-isolation areas - this would help to contain the spread among a vulnerable group of workers without access to healthcare."

Mandeep Singh Bela, spokesperson for the Indian Workers Association, says: "Most migrant workers on temporary visas do not have access to subsidised healthcare or extended paid leave if they’re required to self-isolate, and their visa conditions won’t automatically let them change jobs or employers if one role ends due to the economic shock of the pandemic."

"Any migrant worker who faces termination of employment due to the effects of the pandemic should be granted an open work visa, providing them with reasonable time to find a new job in New Zealand and get back on their feet."

"Finally, we’re calling on employers who employ migrants to act on the Council of Trade Unions’ suggestions, take seriously their duty of care to provide a healthy and safe workplace, and provide workers paid leave."

"Migrant workers should not be disincentivised from reporting, self-isolating and taking all the precautions necessary to limit the spread of the virus."

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