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Call to deport migrant bosses who badly exploit migrant workers

Stuff, New Zealand, 1 September 2019 - Migrant bosses who exploit other migrants can be deported but the sanction has not been used since being reinstated in the Immigration Act in 2015.

Employers who offend within 10 years of getting residency can have their right to live here revoked if they are successfully prosecuted for migrant worker abuse.

Christchurch employment lawyer Paul Brown says Immigration NZ has been too soft for too long and deportation would send a strong message to employers from cultures where it was acceptable for one class of people to exploit another.

"When you have this mindset going back hundreds of years, it doesn't change for having come to New Zealand. Kiwis you can educate and prosecute and fine, but the worst cases I have come across have been migrants exploiting other migrants."

Both sides of the political spectrum agree revoking residency could prove a deterrent.

National's immigration spokesman Stuart Smith says exploitation too often involves migrants taking advantage of their own and "losing their resident status is absolutely a lever we should use."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says it's worth exploring anything that encourages people to meet to their obligations under employment law.

Of the 600 investigations completed by the Labour Inspectorate in the year to the end of June, 64 per cent involved migrant workers.

Inspectorate national manager Stuart Lumsden says it is hard to know whether the level of exploitation is growing, or whether workers are now more willing to report it.

In cases of serious exploitation, employers' residency status is checked, but the perpetrators had often been here more than a decade, so the deportation clause did not apply.

Lumsden says the inspectorate pours considerable resources into educating migrant workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities under New Zealand labour laws, and material is provided in multiple languages.

Thai restaurant worker Miew​ Jantaruksa​ says deportation is fair if employers treat their workers badly, and she encourages those being ripped off fight back, rather than accept it.

She and her chef husband Suriya​ Promthat​ won a confidential settlement from a restaurant owner after engaging a lawyer to pursue a claim for more than $54,400 to cover underpayments and the imposition of an illegal premium which saw Promthat forced to repay $1226 a month to the employer.

Jantaruksa​ tried to resolve the situation by giving her boss information provided by a local community law centre

"I asked for a contract and he said you don't have to have one, I printed out the documents in English and Thai and gave it to them and they ignored it.

"I asked them again and they said, they didn't know New Zealand law. .. He said it was a small city and no one would come to check it."

When the couple learned a Labour Inspectorate investigation would take three to six months, they opted to negotiate a settlement through their lawyer.

Jantaruksa says wading through legal documents and explaining problems to inspectors is very difficult when English is not your first language, but she is glad they persevered and is helping other workers in similar circumstances.

Brown acted for the couple and he says exploitation by migrant employers is just as prevalent in rural areas as in cities.

He cites the example of a young Indian man working 60 to 70 hours a week in a country store for an hourly rate of just $3 or $4.

"The locals could not believe he was always there and in the end they confronted his boss because they know he was being ripped off ... the boss, an Indian man, was furious."

Earlier this year Ashburton business owner and pastor Antonio Ortiz​ was sentenced to five months home detention and ordered to pay reparation of $8845 for his treatment of a fellow migrant working illegally in his hairdressing and massage salon.

Sentencing notes from Timaru District Court said the worker lived on the premises and received food in lieu of wages for his first four to six weeks, and was paid just $2165 for four months work.

Heavier penalties added to the Immigration Act in 2015 included jail terms of up to seven years and fines of up to $100,000 for employers caught exploiting migrant workers, and some offenders have been jailed.

Lumsden says extra powers given to the Labour Inspectorate in 2016 are also beginning to have an impact with higher fines being imposed by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and the Employment Court.

He says larger employers have a moral responsibility to ensure contractors and subcontractors meet their obligations, but there may also be legal consequences if they look the other way.

"If we can prove that they have knowingly assisted in the breach of employment standards we can lay charges as a person involved."

Chorus faced criticism after it was found that more than a 100 of its subcontractors working on the ultra-fact broadband network may have breached labour laws in their treatment of a large migrant workforce.

The Labour Inspectorate has issued 60 infringement and improvement notices to Chorus contractors, taken six cases to the ERA and has another 10 under investigation.

Lumsden says the outcome of the ERA action could affect up to 1000 workers.

Chorus general manager of corporate relations Ian Bonnar​ says they have improved oversight of contractors, demanding to see pay records, checking visas, and black listing 25 subcontracting companies.

An induction programme for migrants will begin soon, Bonnar says workers are encouraged to report unacceptable practices like "volunteerism" (working for free), and over the past year the company has received 23 complaints, mostly about wages.

"None of this is easy. The trickiest thing is making sure the people in the chain know what their rights are."

Chorus' 3500-strong subcontractor workforce ranges from companies with 30 workers to those with just a couple, and management skills are equally variable, says Bonnar​.

"There's a difference between malice and stuff up, more often than not it's stuff up."

New government procurement rules require government agencies and their suppliers to comply with international human rights standards and monitor supply chains, and Lees-Galloway admits that keeping tabs on sub contractors can be challenging.

"When you have layers of contracting, it can be very difficult to identify exactly who is responsible and where the buck stops, but ultimately government agencies and large private organisations have the resources and the influence to be able to look closely at their supply chains."

Filipino migrant worker Kim Villaranda told the Stuff of working long hours laying carpet in Housing New Zealand (HNZ) homes all over Christchurch, and at Ryman Health Care's Charles Upham retirement village in Rangiora.

He has filed a complaint with the Labour Inspectorate for underpayment by his employer ULS Ltd which trades as Urban Flooring.

HNZ says it never used the company Villaranda worked for, but it had engaged another business listed on his HNZ identity card.

Exploitation would be grounds for termination of a contract but to date this had never been necessary, a spokesman said.

Ryman Healthcare says it did not have a direct relationship with Urban Flooring, which was subcontracted to help a subcontractor laying carpet at the Rangiora village.

It was unaware of any allegations relating to worker pay and was concerned to hear them because its contracts require compliance with employment law.

"We believe everyone has a right to be paid fairly. We're an ethical company and we expect the same of the partners we work with."


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