Allison is a digital reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times

Harsher penalties for migrant worker exploitation

Employers who breach immigration and employment laws could be banned from recruiting migrant workers for between six months and two years.
Employers who breach immigration and employment laws could be banned from recruiting migrant workers for between six months and two years.

Tauranga industries using migrant labour have welcomed a government move to clamp down on employers exploiting migrant workers.

Off the back of the country's first human trafficking conviction involving a Tauranga kiwifruit contractor, employers who breach immigration and employment laws would be banned from recruiting migrant workers for between six months and two years.

The changes would come into effect on April 1 this year.

Tauranga was a destination for migrant workers - doing seasonal work and filling job shortages in hospitality, trades and horticulture.

The new rules announced by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse come five months after a Tauranga-based fruit farm labour contractor was found guilty of failing to pay migrant workers minimum wage or holiday pay and providing them with poor quality food and accommodation.

NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson welcomed the measures - "anyone doing that [exploiting workers] we don't want working in our industry."

She said migrant workers were often employed by contractors. Contractors had a gang and moved around the different growers continuously.

"Our industry is putting up some things to increase scrutiny on contractors," she said - Zespri and KGI were working on a scheme for contractors to ensure best practice across the kiwifruit contracting community.

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Alan Sciascia said many migrant workers were employed in hospo jobs, especially as chefs as there was a major skill shortage.

"We fully support any measures taken by authorities to prevent employers from exploiting workers, migrant or not."

He said migrants came seeking work and would often take what they could get.

"Sometime you get a bad employer who will take advantage of them," Mr Sciascia said.

Mr Woodhouse said those who flout the law would be banned from recruiting migrant labour for a stand-down period depending on the severity of the case.

"Access to the international labour market is a privilege...it is simply unacceptable that those 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.

A migrant working in horticulture construction, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had struck it lucky.

Despite potentially being able to earn more elsewhere, the worker said his employer had been decent to him, though he had friends he met through backpacker hostels who had been treated appallingly.

"There was a guy who was treated badly at the restaurant he worked. He was a great chef but they paid him hardly anything under the table and some weeks he was given only 14 hours, even told to go home after arriving to work and it being a busy night.

"He could hardly pay rent and was pretty much dead broke sometimes."

The worker said the chef did not feel he had could complain or had any rights.

"He eventually said 'screw this' and left Tauranga."

EXPLOITED IN TAURANGA


In September last year Jafar Kurisi, a Tauranga-based fruit grower contractor was convicted of charges relating to migrant worker exploitation.

Workers under his care were forced to sleep on the floor of his basement garage when they arrived to Tauranga. There was no bedding or mattress.

The workers worked every day for three weeks and when they asked for their wages Kurisi said they owed him money for rent, food and petrol for driving them to the orchard every day.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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