For so long we have been hearing of migrants being subject to appalling exploitation by employers, some of them immigrants themselves. Stories of migrants going for months being grossly under paid, working extremely long hours and being denied holiday pay, leave and other rights guaranteed under New Zealand labour laws often pop up in the media. People have quite rightfully reacted with disgust and anger, but until recently there has seemed little incentive to act on the labour law breaches. So, it was nice to hear this weekend that there will be a crack down how employers treat migrant workers.
Earlier this year there was a disturbing article in the Sunday Star-Times about a Chinese businessman, named Easter Wu, who is an employer and suggested that employers should ignore labour laws and not pay minimum wages. There was an angry response in the letters to the editor and online to Mr Wu’s suggestion. The anger was as much a result of an employer who is from another country implying that the act of law breaking in this regard is acceptable, as it was that Mr Wu wanted migrants to not be paid according to New Zealand labour laws.
Unfortunately there is significant truth to the idea that New Zealand is a soft touch on labour laws. The abuses suffered by Indonesian fishermen on the Oyang Corporation trawlers is a classic example of how New Zealand is viewed by some countries overseas to be something of a “wild west frontier” in labour issues. That case went to court after the crew of one of the trawlers refused to sail and after conditions on another one at sea got so bad that it sunk in 2010. A third trawler from Sajo Oyang, designated Oyang 77 had a chequered history in New Zealand waters. In 2012 it’s owners were brought before the courts on charges of gross under payment of wages over a two year period.
In another case at the start of 2013, a Vietnamese horticulture contractor was found to have under paid, denied leave to six workers and failed to keep basic wage records about them. He was fined NZ$10,000 and sentenced 9 months home detention.
New Zealand has some significant work to do in improving its labour laws regarding the rights of migrant workers here. It is all very well to enforce the law, which is a major component of making sure that migrants get treated fairly, but there needs to be a culture change in New Zealand migrant communities. The change is necessary to make employers and migrants realise from the start that this is not the country they migrated from and that both employers and employees have responsibilities under New Zealand labour regulations. It further needs to leave them in no doubt that if New Zealand authorities suspect there are breaches of the law in the progress that those breaches will be investigated and the culprits prosecuted.