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Bill needs more bite than bark

Although an analysis appearing in our Homelink pages in this issue poses several pointers to the Government on the proposed Immigration Amendment Bill, we believe that Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse deserves credit for the move.

The Bill that he introduced to Parliament on October 3 proposed a series of bold steps to stem the growth of rogue employers, exploitation of migrant workers and the increasing threat of illegal immigrants orchestrated by human traffickers.

The proposed Legislation, if passed into Law, will place erring employers at the risk of going behind bars for seven years, a fine of $100,000, with the added prospect of adverse media coverage.

However, the Bill’s threat to deport employers who have breached Labour Laws within ten years of their gaining residence in New Zealand would hardly have any teeth. This is because most employers exploiting expatriate labour are New Zealand citizens and hence cannot be asked to leave the country.

However, Mr Woodhouse assured us that New Zealand citizens who abuse or misuse migrant labourers will face the full brunt of the law, including prison term and fines.

He said that the penalties reflect the seriousness of such offences and that his Government would take tough action to tackle migrant exploitation.

“The fundamental and overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights and protections as all other workers in New Zealand. We are aware that some employers exploit their migrant workers by paying them less than the minimum wage or making them work excessive hours. Sadly, in many cases the employer is a migrant themselves and taking advantage of vulnerable people from their own community,” he said.

The Immigration Amendment Bill forms a part of a package to address migrant exploitation and follows policy changes in June that encourage victims of exploitation to come forward without fear of being penalised.

The Bill also extends the search powers of immigration officers so they can search an employer’s premises and talk to the people present to identify offending by employers. They will also be able to search for unlawful workers, check documents and ensure migrant employees are complying with the Act.

It is understood that people of Indian origin are the most common victims since lack of experience, the urge to seek permanent residence status and facilitate migration of the members of the immediate family are among the factors that prompt them to rush to the nearest immigration consultant or accept any employment offer.

In many cases, such people are quickly relieved of their hard-earned money and left in the lurch.

Potential immigrants who arrive here on visit visas or those entering the country on other types of status (refugees for instance) apparently look up the yellow pages of the phone book and choose a consultant at random and entrust the job of processing their applications.

In other cases, those with permanent residence status are keen to bring their family members and seek the advice of such consultants.

That is when the trouble starts.

Well established and reputed consultants not only offer professional and genuine advice but also account for a high success rate in terms of enabling applicants to achieve their objective of migrating to New Zealand.

Deregulation has led to a large number of consultants offering their services in New Zealand. People should be careful in selecting the firm or individual to deal with and not respond blindly to advertisements. The Licensing regime which is in force, has somewhat disciplined the consultancy business.

It is now time to discipline some employers as well.

But any change in the Law should have greater force to punish offenders swiftly.

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