The Minister for Immigration has acknowledged that a report by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand on the unfair treatment of some migrant workers in this country has
highlighted “very serious” concerns. Minister Michael Woodhouse was responding to a question put to him in Parliament by Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway on September 8.

Mr Lees-Galloway cited Caritas’ “Stand up for what’s right — supporting migrant workers” report in challenging the minister to conduct a review.

Mr Woodhouse acknowledged that concerns raised by the Caritas report were “very serious”.

Mr Woodhouse continued: “I can assure the member and this house that both Immigration New Zealand and the labour inspectorate take any reports — however anecdotal — of migrant exploitation extremely seriously.

That is why, two years ago, I asked them to work much more closely together and to create a more synergistic response, and why this Government in Budget 2015 significantly increased the labour inspectorate’s resources.”

Released last week, the report is based on a small scale, qualitative study.

The report outlines unfair treatment of migrant workers in New Zealand, based on interviews with people in the Wellington archdiocese, and ways Catholic communities and the wider public can support those in need.

Anonymous participants were interviewed as part of the research by Caritas’ research and advocacy analyst Cathy Bi about their experiences or those of people providing support in addressing cases of mistreatment.

The aim of the study is to help the Church community to understand the experiences of migrant workers, the barriers that prevent people from asking for help, and the role that parishes and Catholic communities can play in supporting them.

Migrant workers who are being exploited face not only a language barrier, but also an unfamiliar legal system and the additional stress of confronting an employer over ill-treatment.

“There is a gap for vulnerable migrant workers to cross in order to access justice. We can’t necessarily expect migrant workers to do this alone,” Ms Bi said.

The report brings migrant experiences to life by telling their stories in their own words. One participant in the study, for example, was asked to work a shift in a restaurant and was told afterwards that she wouldn’t be paid for it because it was a “trial”.

This type of treatment, along with below minimum legal work conditions and pay were depicted as “normal” by some employers, and then taken on as a “necessary sacrifice” by some migrant workers, the research found.

However, in this case the woman stood up to her employer and won, Ms Bi said.

“What she communicated to me, is that this isn’t common for her friends to stand up to the employer, but it is common for employers to say ‘Oh we don’t pay for this period’ or ‘We don’t give contracts’.”

The report calls on Government agencies to do more to proactively monitor workplaces, and for communities to show care and concern by supporting migrants to seek help through clarifying basic employment rights, referring them to accessible legal experts, and helping
them to look for alternative work.

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