Migrant labourers from India need better protection

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Advance Reading: The Leader from our August 1, 2022 Digital Edition

Informatics Courtesy: Aims Global, Immigration and Education Advisors, New Zealand and India

Auckland, July 30, 2022

Immigration Minister Michael Wood has done well to allow New Zealand employers to ‘selectively’ recruit workers from overseas, a move that has been warmly received.

He has also put in place the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) Scheme to hire migrants on visas for up to three years. They must undertake to pay at least the New Zealand Median Wage, which is currently $27 per hour, amounting to an annual salary of $56,160, based on the usual 40-hour-a-week formula.

Employers should also demonstrate the need for such overseas recruitment and the efforts that they have taken to find employing people onshore.

By and large, most employers have accepted this formula, some of them grudgingly because according to them, economies of scale will not make it sustainable to pay wages ‘as high as $27 an hour.’ They cite the current economic downturn as a reason.

The real threat of abuse

Notwithstanding the constraints of the economy, the need to protect migrant workers cannot be over-emphasised. There have been horrific tales of gross misuse of people who arrive here on work visas- these include unacceptable working conditions, abuse of the system, non-compliance with contractual obligations and worse, non-payment of wages on time.

Granted, a majority of employers are good people and hence have nothing to worry about, but it is the minority for whom the law should spell deterrence.

New Zealand depends on migration for gainful employment and the past two years have proved the value of migrant workers because none was arriving, The opening of borders from August 1, 2022, should prove to be a boon to employers and eventually the economy.

As the world’s largest origin for international migrants, India has a rich history of immigration and emigration. They are also among the most abused in many parts of the world, especially in countries where there is surging demand for them.

Action by the Indian Government

According to the Migrant Policy Institute based in Washington DC, many Indians with low levels of education have repeatedly been targeted by deceptive or abusive foreign employers, particularly in the Middle East. This situation has prompted government efforts to protect Indians employed abroad, including by trying to certify recruitment agents.

“Over time, the Indian government has built multiple systems for engaging with its emigrant population and the many descendants who call India their ancestral home. Money sent as remittances represent a prime tactic for improving financial conditions and diversifying risk, particularly in rural households. The estimated US $87 billion in official remittances received in India in 2021 represented the world’s largest such flow and amounted to nearly 15% of all global transfers to low and middle-income countries, according to the World Bank.”

The Indian government has sought to protect its people employed overseas with its draft legislation, ‘Emigration Bill 2021,’ which would replace the 1983 law and alter the recruitment process for foreign workers.

India has also sought to capitalise on the skills and training well-educated workers acquire abroad, including by easing the path for them and their descendants to return to India or otherwise invest in its development. As an example, many college-educated emigrants who gained experience in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs subsequently used their ties to create a thriving information technology sector in Bangalore.

Notwithstanding these developments, there is a more pressing need to protect migrant labour from India in the post-pandemic world. We hope that New Zealand and Indian governments will work together and prevent worker exploitation. The combined responsibility that the Immigration Minister has with the portfolio of Workplace Relations and Safety should act as an added protection.

The Indian High Commission in Wellington has a critical role to play in this connection.


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