We have to monitor our migrant employers

Discussion on migrants can raise strong reactions depending on our experience of them.  There are two sides to the migrant story and this one is about how migrants are exploited here in New Zealand.

A common thread to migrant complaints about exploitation is that it is often carried out by fellow migrants.

There have been two stories in the press over the last week.  A half-intelligent person could surmise that the abuse is on the rise. Neither story specifies the nationality of the offenders, but the offenders’ names indicate that they are probably fellow migrants.

Migrants gravitate toward fellow countrymen for work when they are not fluent enough in English to get a job themselves; but they become a prime target for exploitation when they don’t understand New Zealand employee rights.

Arriving at Auckland airport

Phillipino Lino Viloria worked for 3ML owner Roderick Laus for six months when he and six other migrant workers, backed by New Zealander Thomas Shepherd, got in touch [with Newsroom] after they became frustrated with the Labour Inspectorate.

Shepherd says Viloria’s story is typical of migrant exploitation.  Viloria explains: quote.

At first, I was expecting to earn the $18 an hour rate, but we were forced to work six days a week, more than 40 hours and we were only receiving allowances of $150 to $200 per week, instead of being paid regularly. That lasted seven weeks.”

Fed up, Viloria says that he, and the two other cable technicians he had come from the Philippines with, asked [Roderick] Laus to “honour” their contracts and pay them the hourly rate stated on their work visas.

According to Viloria, Laus immediately enrolled the trio in a “Chorus training”, and proceeded to pay them the agreed rate. However, even after that was sorted, things still weren’t right, Viloria says.

For the next 16 months, Viloria says he worked Saturdays without being paid. This stops when he confronts Laus about it.

“Roderick said okay, if you don’t want to work on Saturday, then don’t work. But, I’m not going to pay you for the Saturdays before.”  End of quote.

Viloria says he had no choice but to continue to work for Laus. Quote.

First of all, even if they don’t pay me properly, my dreams of going abroad really happened here in New Zealand. Even if I had a bad experience with Roderick [Laus] and even if I wasn’t paid, it’s okay for me.

“In the Phillippines, even if you work properly, you don’t get paid properly. My children love it here too – they think it is more safe to live here and a better environment compared to my country.” End of quote.

Another common thread to immigrant exploitation is that immigrants are tolerant of exploitation because they are still better off in New Zealand than they are in the country they came from, so they don’t want to return home.

Shepherd complained to the Labour Department who investigated 3ML but refused to comment on their findings.  Quote.

The Labour Inspectorate can’t comment on these open investigations, and continues to use a number of legal and confidential methods, and processes to conduct investigations,” a spokesperson says.

UCG, one of Chorus’s main partners which contracts 3ML to carry out work on the UFB network, continues to work with the company.

“We take our statutory obligations seriously and if any subcontracting company of UCG is found to have breached employment or immigration laws UCG terminates the contract immediately,” chief executive Ralf Luna says.

“3ML is currently contracted to UCG.”

Viloria, who now works at a different cable-laying company, believes 3ML and Laus should be held to account.” End of quote.

The Labour Inspectorate achieved absolutely nothing in their handling of the 3ML case because nothing changed.  It is simply not good enough.  Laus should have been forced to cough up the back pay and New Zealand needs a process and a watchdog to monitor migrant employment.

The second report of immigrant exploitation this week occurred in the Bay of Plenty and was reported by Newsie.  Quote.

The Employment Court has ruled three migrant employees working in stores in two remote Bay of Plenty towns will receive $10,000 each in compensation.

The stores have been identified as being located in Murupara and Kopuriki and involve an employer couple who “conspired to instigate, aid and abet” persistent breaches of their employment rights.” End of quote.

Again, the Labour Inspectorate was involved.  Quote.

Labour Inspectorate Retail Sector Lead Loua Ward says the workers originally came to New Zealand on student visas and upon completion of their studies, secured work visas to allow them to work as shop assistants.

“The Court heard that the employees were underpaid and overworked. In addition to undertaking shop assistant tasks, the workers looked after their employers’ children, washed their cars, and cleaned their houses.”

Prabh Limited, and its shareholder and director couple Rajwinder Kaur and Baljinder Singh, have been fined a total of $132,000 for significant breaches of the Minimum Wage and Holidays Act.

The Murupara store was a general store, while the small Kopuriki store sold liquor and petrol. Both stores are owned by Prabh Limited and trade independently.

Prabh Limited, Kaur and Singh will be placed on the Stand Down list for two years and will be prevented from hiring migrant workers for that time.” End of quote.

This is appalling behavior. Persistent offenders should be deported because putting them on a stand down list is just not good enough.

We need a law change allowing a stand-down period of say 10 years where migrants who persistently exploit others, or keep breaking the law, can be charged under the law and, if found guilty, deported.  A harsh penalty would give teeth to our laws and provide a deterrent that currently does not exist.

We also need to monitor migrants by vetting them instead of the current knee-jerk reaction to offenders where there is no severe penalty for re-offending.  Either the Labour Inspectorate has to pick up its game and become responsible for monitoring errant migrant employers, or we set up another organisation to do the job.

There are no excuses and unless we get rid of the rot with their third world exploitation practices we will eventually become a third world country too.

We talk about upholding Kiwi values but if we are not prepared to protect our values in law and in practice, all our talk is meaningless hot air.


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