Consultation on migrant exploitation
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) welcomed feedback and proposals for the temporary migrant worker exploitation review initiated in October 2019.
Based on the research conducted by the MBIE, it is indicated that there are around 450,000 migrant workers in New Zealand and they suspect that an unknown number of these migrant workers are possibly at risk of, or currently, being exploited. This follows on from the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement, which sought to put migrant exploitation, particularly of international students, at the forefront of their immigration policy. Therefore, the focus on reducing migrant exploitation is a priority for the MBIE and aligns with the future framework which requires all employers to achieve accreditation status first, before being permitted to support employees for closed “employer-supported” work visas.
The consultations ended on 27 November 2019 and the current proposals will span three areas:
MBIE has conceded that the proposals for the “prevent” aspects, which are targeted at addressing underlying issues which may contribute to worker exploitation, are still in their early stages.
The Government aims to increase liability for stakeholders or external parties who may have an influence on an employer, and may therefore contribute to migrant exploitation. There is acknowledgement that businesses in practice often operate at multiple levels and this can be used to conceal or enable exploitation.
One proposal is to prohibit banned people, such as those convicted of exploitation offences, from becoming company directors or taking executive roles in a business by expanding on the provisions currently available under the Companies Act 1993. This would potentially minimise risks of having individuals convicted of these offences subsequently establishing a new company in order to continue their exploitations.
The focus on this will be to provide pathways for existing temporary visa holders to more easily leave employment in which they have been exploited in.
This will involve the establishment of an 0800 phone line and online reporting avenues, allowing migrants to call through and inform INZ of any potential exploitation. The MBIE will also look into training a specialized team to deal with these reports and developing a system to be able to triage, consolidate and verify information provided through these platforms for greater oversight.
In addition to this, INZ is proposing to offer a bridging visa for exploited migrants to be able to remove the specific conditions on their work visas. Alternatively, there may be the option to make discretionary determinations in granting new visas for victims who report on exploitation, depending on their circumstances. These will offer a pathway for migrants to be able to leave their current employer and seek alternative work, therefore providing them more incentives to leave exploitative employment and report mistreatment.
To further deter possible exploitation and non-compliance with employment standards, MBIE proposes to introduce and implement harsher penalties for proven offences. This would possibly include introducing more minor infringement offices and fees for lower level breaches such as failing to provide required documentation to demonstrate compliance, allowing employees without the requisite work rights to work or paying a salary less than agreed to in the visa application.
There is also interest in expanding the list of offences which may result in an employer being “stood-down” and therefore unable to support migrants for visas, and improved dissemination of the stand-down list to migrant workers to ensure they are well-informed.
The overarching goal of targeting, preventing and deterring migrant exploitation is to better protect the affected individuals and their families, as well as compliant employers who may be adversely affected by non-compliant competitors and the international reputation of New Zealand as a safe and secure place to reside and work.
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