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Barrier to migrant workers exposing abuse still unaddressed

Media release: FIRST Union

Friday October 4, 2013

Biggest barrier to migrant workers exposing abuse still unaddressed

UNEMIG, Union Network of Migrants, says that changes to migrant worker rights announced yesterday are a step in the right direction, but don’t address one of the biggest barriers migrant workers face in speaking out.

The Immigration Amendment Bill released yesterday afternoon extends coverage in sections of the Immigration Act (s.351 and s.355) that deal with offences against exploiting workers and the resulting penalties, for things like underpayment, preventing workers from seeking information about their rights, preventing workers leaving their job, seizing passports and preventing workers having outside contact. 

Previously those sections only covered unlawful workers, and they will now cover lawful temporary workers also.

The bill also adds to the reasons listed for deportation in Section 161, to include deportation for exploitation of workers described above if the offence is committed within 10 years of the employer themselves gaining a residence visa.

But Dennis Maga said that one of the most significant barriers for migrant workers speaking out against abuse remains unaddressed.

“If migrant workers come forward to speak out about abuse and leave their exploitative situation, they will lose their work visa that is tied to that job.”

“It’s not good enough to then simply go on to a visitor’s visa, with no ability to earn an income.  All this does is risk workers going underground into unlawful work in order to survive.”

“Migrant workers need the protection of an open visa that allows them to find alternative work while their case is heard, when their employment is shown to be exploitative.  Immigration New Zealand needs to be able to exercise greater compassion to migrant workers who are willing to expose the bad practices of their employers but who fear for their ability to remain in New Zealand.”

Dennis Maga said UNEMIG was also concerned about employers who are caught out but then dissolve their company to avoid penalties being enforced, and wanted to see some movement in this policy area also.

“In May this year we welcomed moves to strengthen immigration law to protect migrant workers.  We said any changes needed to be substantial and concrete.” 

“This bill falls short of that, and we will be making sure we argue this case when the bill reaches select committee,” Dennis Maga said.


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