This gives workers the option of changing employers, should they find themselves exploited, and means employers have less power to threaten staff into accepting work that breaks employment law. However the essential skills visa, aimed at increasing the skills needed in New Zealand’s workforce, remains locked in to one employer. This means it is very difficult for a worker, whose skills are in high demand, to look elsewhere if the employer is treating them unlawfully.
Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG, a FIRST Union affiliate organisation) and Indian Workers Association (IWA) organiser Mandeep Bela says it’s a step in the right direction to restoring an imbalance of power for workers on the employer assisted visa.
“Locking-in a migrant worker to one company is essentially enforcing bonded labour. Now, at least migrant workers on the employer assisted visa will be able to exercise their right to move jobs if they are not treated well or are being exploited, just like any other New Zealander would be able to do. It is what we’ve been asking for, especially to help newly graduated students, and the Government has responded so for that we are thankful.”
But Mr Bela says if the Government really wants to stamp out the exploitation of migrant workers, the move must also include those on the essential skills visas, but in a different way.
“We urge the Government to apply similar regulations on the essential skills visa. Here, workers should be able to apply for a visa for their specific skills in a particular industry (such as construction, transport or hospitality) rather than be locked to a specific employer. This would ensure their skills are where they are needed the most, and the skills we most desperately need are paid for at a true market rate. This would also make it more difficult for these employers to act unlawfully because the employee could just leave and go work somewhere else. Other working people would also benefit as migrant workers will not be able to be brought in at a cheaper rate to undercut other workers, migrants will not be able to be used to drive down wages.”
A survey of essential skill visa holders undertaken by the IWA showed more than 65% are claiming to have been exploited due their visa being attached to a particular employer and to a particular location.
He says New Zealand’s track-record with migrant workers is embarrassing.
“In audits done in the past we’ve seen some horrifying levels of exploitation. Our survey shows this is what migrant workers desperately need. This new legislation needs to go that bit further to ensure we put an end to these inhumane practices.”