Exploitation of Migrant Workers

August 20th, 2015

Migrant workers are being exploited by employers as ‘Visa hostages’.

While a power imbalance is present between most individual workers and their employer, migrant workers can face a particular challenge in negotiating their conditions of work.

A stark example of this is the ‘Visa hostage’ situation which arises when a worker does not receive their basic legal entitlements because of their status as an illegal worker. Last year the Employment Relations Authority considered a case where New Zealand Vines Limited purposefully underpaid several workers at their Marlborough vineyard. Workers were paid below the minimum wage, with some receiving wages as low as $2 per hour.

Often migrant workers feel that if they complain about their situation, they will be fired. Migrants may face the threat of employment or immigration officials being informed by their employer if they do not comply with their terms of employment.

It is also possible that migrant workers are unaware of instances where working conditions breach the New Zealand law as they come from a different legal system. However, ignorance is no excuse for New Zealand employers who are required to treat migrants in the same way as other workers, with the same minimum wage, holiday and health and safety entitlements.

Exploitation of illegal workers has serious consequences as a criminal offence. In 2010, four men from Hawkes Bay were sentenced to three years in jail for conducting a multi-million dollar operation which employed hundred of fruit and vegetable workers at below the minimum wage.

If you have any questions about your obligations as an employer or your rights as a migrant worker, feel free to give Buckett Law a call.

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