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Open visa call from migrant advocate

Date of Release: 
Monday, October 7, 2013

Migrant workers are not protected enough to be able to expose abuse from their employers, a migrant workers' advocate says.

Spokesperson for the Union Network of Migrants Dennis Maga says changes to migrant worker rights announced last week are a step in the right direction, but don't address the reason workers are afraid to speak out against their employer.

Because their visa was tied to their job, migrants were reluctant to do anything that would affect their ability to keep working.

"If migrant workers come forward to speak out about abuse and leave their exploitative situation, they will lose their work visa that is tied to that job."

Immigration New Zealand might issue a visitor's visa while their complaint is being handled, which means they can not work and earn an income.

Maga is calling for Immigration New Zealand(INZ) to allow workers to have an open visa that would let them find another job while their complaint is being handled.

Under the Immigration Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament last week, rogue employers will face a jail sentence of up to seven years, and fines up $100,000.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said migrants faced problems including being paid below the minimum wage, being forced to work extra hours without pay, or having their passports withheld.

"This type of activity is illegal and will not be tolerated in New Zealand. This bill represents further measures as we move to stamp out this abhorrent practice," Mr Woodhouse said.

However, Maga said the bill did not protect migrant workers enough for them to expose abuse.

He said many migrants working for the Christchurch rebuild were being exploited and employers threatened to send them home if they complained.

Some had signed an employment contract in the Philippines which got altered when they arrived in New Zealand. For example, some understood accommodation would be provided as part of their contract but found they had to pay a high price for it when they arrived in Canterbury, Maga said.

Changing jobs was a long and difficult process which put most workers off placing a complaint with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)'s labour inspectorate.

"They don't want to take the risk," Maga said.

"If they complain, they have no assurance that they will be able to continue to work and pay for their rent and buy food."

Excerpt from The Press story - read the full article online here.

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