New regime to punish rogue employers in Parliament

Associate Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Venkat Raman
Auckland, September 29, 2022

  • The offence and penalty regime significantly strengthened
  • New infringement offences for non-compliance
  • Public register of individuals and businesses that are found guilty of migrant exploitation
  • New community-led pilot to educate migrants workers and employers about employment rights
  • Implemented reporting tools successfully bring exploitation out of the shadows
  • Take-up of protective visa continues to safeguard workers reporting exploitation

The government has introduced the Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill to Parliament to protect migrant workers from exploitation, Associate Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Priyanca Radhakrishnan has said.

Comprehensive approach

“With our borders open once again, and near record low unemployment, migrant workers are returning to New Zealand, helping to grow our economy and bring new perspectives to our communities. Protecting migrant workers from exploitation is a priority for the government, and the proposed legislation takes a comprehensive approach to stamping out migrant exploitation,” she said in a statement issued on September 28, 2022.

Ms Radhakrishnan said that there is a need to educate migrant workers about their rights, offer them better protection against exploitation, provide further access to support and hold exploitative employers to account.

“This Bill will strengthen current measures and introduce new ones to crack down on employer non-compliance.  Introducing infringement offences will ensure that even lower-level offending such as refusing to provide employment documentation, are dealt with before it becomes more serious. Those convicted of migrant exploitation will also be disqualified from managing or directing a company, with a public register naming those individuals,” she said.

Bridging the education gap

The government is building on the reporting and protection measures that were rolled out in 2021, by commencing a community-led education pilot and introducing worker protection legislation to the house.

Ms Radhakrishnan said research shows that migrants most at risk of exploitation lack basic knowledge of their employment rights. The government is making this information more accessible to migrant workers and those who employ them.

“Working with community and industry networks that already support migrant workers and employers of migrants is an obvious step we can take to bridge this education gap. The Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill will introduce the remaining changes from the Government’s Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation Review completed in 2020, including establishing an infringement regime,” she said.

According to Ms Radhakrishnan, the proposed legislation builds on the first tranche of changes that came into effect in July 2021 and included a dedicated 0800 number and reporting and triaging web form, the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa which has seen over 119 visas granted in the year ending July 2022 to safeguard workers, and liaison support services for victims of migrant exploitation.

Improvements and Initiatives

“These initiatives have resulted in more people coming forward to report migrant exploitation with 956 reports between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022 – up from just 173 in the previous year,” Priyanca Radhakrishnan said.

“The Bill’s proposals also supplement the many improvements and initiatives the government has taken in recent years to improve migrant rights, whether it’s through the immigration rebalance or lifting wage requirements long term.

“Just earlier this week the government announced sick leave provisions to be introduced to our RSE workers, in addition to minimum wage requirements introduced during the pandemic. But with a full review of the scheme underway, we know there is still more to do,” she said.

Ms Radhakrishnan encouraged people to engage with the Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill as it goes through the Select Committee process.

“We need to work collectively to stamp out migrant exploitation and ensure that those who come to New Zealand to work are treated fairly and with dignity,” she said.

About the Research

Kantar Public research delivers insights into worker and employer mindsets. The independent research by Kantar Public for MBIE shows that about 9% of employers are categorised as higher risk, with strong business pressures, a lack of knowledge about obligations, and a feeling they can ‘get away with it’ meaning they are more likely to exploit workers.  About a third of workers are at risk of exploitation because of a lack of knowledge of their employment rights or because they are more reliant on a job for financial or visa reasons, so feel trapped.

The research also shows a majority of employers are compliant with immigration and employment law and want to do right by their workers, although not easy for some. And most migrants are satisfied and grateful for their employment. However, the gratitude for having a job may be causing migrant workers to downplay or accept employment issues.

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