Tougher punishment for exploitation of migrant workers

Michael Woodhouse –

Employers who exploit migrant workers and breach provisions of the Employment Law will come to grief under a new set of rules that will come into effect on April 1, 2017, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has said.

“It is unacceptable that employers who exploit migrant workers are still able to recruit from the international labour market and disadvantage those employers who do the right thing,” he said announcing the new measures on February 23.

The new rules account for ‘stand-down periods,’ during which employers who flout the law will be banned from recruiting further migrant workers.

Employers who have incurred an employment standards-related penalty will be banned from recruiting migrant labour for defined stand-down periods ranging from six months to two years, depending on the severity of the case.

Guidelines published

Published guidelines and criteria will ensure that stand-down periods are applied fairly, consistently and transparently.

Mr Woodhouse said that access to the international labour market is a privilege, not a right and that employers abusing that privilege would face consequences.

The new measures will apply to all employers intending to recruit labour market-tested migrant workers, including employers who are (a) supporting work visa applications and approvals in principle (b) seeking accredited employer status or supporting residence class visa applications based on employment and (c) employers who are part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

Employment standards

“Employment standards-related penalties extend from formal infringement notices issued by the Labour Inspectorate (following a Labour Inspectorate investigation) through to penalties issued by the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court, a declaration of breach or banning order issued by the Employment Court.  Employers issued with penalties because of private actions taken by employees either through the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court will also be included,” Mr Woodhouse said.

“While non-compliant employers would not be eligible to recruit further migrant workers for the duration of their stand-down period, some employers who meet the threshold for non-compliance with employment standards will already have migrant workers in their employment. These employees will be able to work out the duration of their work visa, but will not be granted further work visas to work for the non-compliant employer,” Mr Woodhouse said.

Mr Woodhouse visited our office on Friday, February 17, 2017 and shared with us his vision for a clean and transparent immigration regime that ensured absence of exploitation and rogue agents overseas.

“We will do everything possible to protect the impeccable image of New Zealand as the finest destination for education and migrants,” he said.

Indian Newslink will publish issues related to immigration, exploitation of migrant workers and the plight of international students from South Asia in its ensuing issues and seek the views of experts.

EEO concurs

Welcoming the move, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner (of Human Rights Commission) Dr Jackie Blue said that the stand-down periods for employers who breach immigration and employment law said that she hoped this would be only the start of actions taken to address migrant labour exploitation in New Zealand.

“Last year, New Zealand saw its first human trafficking conviction and the release of a report that highlighted an urgent need for systems that better monitor and address worker exploitation and protect our migrant workers. We are not immune to human rights abuses,” she said.

Penalising employers who show disregard for our employment and immigration laws is a positive first step towards addressing migrant labour exploitation in New Zealand. It sends a strong message that their actions are not acceptable, she said.

Complex Issue

Dr Blue said that migrant exploitation is a multifaceted and complex issue that requires a multifaceted and coordinated response.

“We are keen to see that these new measures are just the start of actions aimed at addressing what is a significant problem – particularly in our dairy, horticultural, hospitality and international education industries. Last year, the Human Rights Commission identified migrant exploitation as one of the five most serious human rights issues for businesses operating in New Zealand,” she said.

Additional Reading: Our Leader, ‘No mercy for unscrupulous employers’ under Viewlink in this issue.

Photo Caption:

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse with (from left) Indian Newslink Managing Director Jacob Mannothra, National MP (Botany) Jami-Lee Ross, Indian Newslink Assistant Editor Ratna Venkat and Link2 Services Limited Managing Director Indra Sirigiri at our offices on Friday, February 17, 2017.

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