Government strengthens measures to combat migrant worker exploitation

  • Hon Priyanca Radhakrishnan
  • Offence and penalty regime significantly strengthened
  • New infringement offences for non-compliance
  • Public register of individuals and businesses that are found guilty of migrant exploitation
  • New community-led pilot to educate migrants workers and employers of employment rights
  • Implemented reporting tools successfully brings exploitation out of the shadows
  • Take-up of protective visa continues to safeguard workers reporting exploitation
  • The Government has today introduced the Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill designed to protect migrant workers from exploitation, says Associate Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

    “With our borders open once again, and near record low unemployment, migrant workers are returning to New Zealand, helping to grow our economy and bring new perspectives to our communities,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

    “Protecting migrant workers from exploitation is a priority for the Government, and today’s announcement will take a comprehensive approach to stamping out migrant exploitation,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

    “We need to ensure we educate migrant workers so that they know their rights, better protect those who have been exploited by providing further access to support, and hold exploitative employers to account.

    “This Bill will strengthen current measures, and introduce new ones to crack down on employer non-compliance.

    “Introducing infringement offences will ensure that even lower-level offending such as refusing to provide employment documentation, are dealt with before it becomes more serious.

    “Those convicted of migrant exploitation will also be disqualified from managing or directing a company, with a public register naming those individuals.”

    The Government is building on the reporting and protection measures that were rolled out in 2021, by commencing a community-led education pilot and introducing worker protection legislation to the house today.

    “Research released today shows that migrants most at risk of exploitation lack basic knowledge of their employment rights. We are making this information more accessible to migrant workers and those who employ them,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

    “Working with community and industry networks that already support migrant workers and employers of migrants is an obvious step we can take to bridge this education gap.

    The Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill will introduce the remaining changes from the Government’s Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation Review completed in 2020, including establishing an infringement regime.

    This builds on the first tranche of changes that came into effect in July 2021 and included a dedicated 0800 number and reporting and triaging web form, the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa which has seen over 119 visas granted in the year ending July 2022 to safeguard workers, and liaison support services for victims of migrant exploitation.

    “These initiatives have resulted in more people coming forward to report migrant exploitation with 956 reports between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022 – up from just 173 in the previous year,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

    “The Bill’s proposals also supplement the many improvements and initiatives the government has taken in recent years to improve migrant rights, whether it’s through the immigration rebalance or lifting wage requirements long term.

    “Just earlier this week the government announced sick leave provisions to be introduced to our RSE workers, in addition to minimum wage requirements introduced during the pandemic. But with a full review of the scheme under way, we know there is still more to do.

    “I encourage engagement with the Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill as it goes through the Select Committee process. We need to work collectively to stamp out migrant exploitation and ensure that those who come to New Zealand to work are treated fairly and with dignity,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

    Notes:

    Kantar Public research delivers insights into worker and employer mindsets

    The independent research by Kantar Public for MBIE shows about nine per cent of employers are categorised as higher risk, with strong business pressures, a lack of knowledge about obligations, and a feeling they can ‘get away with it’ meaning they are more likely to exploit workers.

    • About a third of workers are at risk of exploitation because of a lack of knowledge of their employment rights or because they are more reliant on a job for financial or visa reasons, so feel trapped.
    • The research also shows the majority of employers are compliant with immigration and employment law and want to do right by their workers, although not easy for some. And most migrants are satisfied and grateful for their employment. However, the gratitude of having a job may be causing migrant workers to downplay or accept employment issues.

    https://www.mbie.govt.nz/dmsdocument/25207-snapshot-findings-of-temporary-migrant-workers-and-employers-of-migrants

    https://www.mbie.govt.nz/dmsdocument/25198-temporary-migrant-worker-exploitation-research-programme-quantitative-findings

    Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) research focusses specifically on the construction sector and understanding their information needs

    The report identified a focus group comprising of 33 migrants who were Filipino, Malay, and Chinese nationals. They work in New Zealand’s construction sector and the report gathered information on experience of these migrants.

    • BERL made four recommendations, which are: providing information products in multiple languages, in different formats, widening of the distribution channels including greater collaboration with third parties, and taking an integrated approach across the government to the information needs of employers and migrant workers.
    • The BERL reports confirmed a situation already of concern to MBIE and Immigration New Zealand that some migrants in the construction sector are being exploited, underpaid, and have a low level of awareness regarding their rights.

    https://www.mbie.govt.nz/dmsdocument/25201-construction-sector-community-research-audience-and-communication-channels

    https://www.mbie.govt.nz/dmsdocument/25204-construction-sector-community-research-effectiveness-of-resources-and-messaging

    The Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill will:

    • Disqualifying persons convicted of migrant exploitation or people trafficking from managing or directing a company
    • Establishing three new Immigration Act infringement offences
    • Creating a document production power for immigration officers
    • Allow labour inspectors and immigration officers to issue an infringement notice where employers fail to provide requested documents within a reasonable timeframe
    • Expand the stand-down list to cover offending under the Immigration Act

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