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Concern for migrant workers in NZ

By Lisa Glass

Published: 8:20PM Saturday May 11, 2013 Source: ONE News

Changes could come into effect later this year to protect migrant workers at risk of exploitation in New Zealand, ONE News has learned.

Advocates for immigrants say such workers are at the mercy of their employers, who they rely on as sponsors to work here legally.

General Manager of the ministry's Labour Inspectorate, George Mason, said the Immigration Department had only recently discovered the extent of which migrant workers were being taken advantage of.

"We're actively looking at policy changes and practice changes to support migrant workers coming forward.

"We're looking to make sure they can stay here while their case is investigated."

Filipino worker Connie is one of a growing number of migrant workers whose dream in New Zealand has turned sour.

After having her passport taken off her by her employer, Connie said she was told that, in addition to her childcare work, she needed to do household chores which required her to work as many as 65 hours a week.

ONE News has seen a copy of a list of duties Connie said she was given, which includes cleaning toilets, mopping floors and vacuuming her employer's car.

Despite her employment contract setting her wage rate at $13.50 per hour (the minimum wage), Connie said she was paid only $400 a month. At 65 hours a week that works out to around $1.50 an hour.

Connie's former employer said she never underpaid Connie and that she was never asked to do extra duties.

The employer confirmed she wrote the list but insisted it was not for her nanny: She said it was a draft of instructions she planned to use if she decided to hire a cleaner.

The employer also denied Connie was required to work more than the six hours a day, for which she was contracted, and said some days Connie worked far fewer hours. She said Connie was treated like a member of the family and her passport was only taken for safe-keeping.

Connie has now left her live-in job and has filed a case with the Employment Relations Authority.

Unions back Connie's case

First Union spokesperson Robert Reid, whose organisation is backing Connie's case, said she was now in breach of her work visa.

"At the moment she's undocumented. These migrants, when they come to New Zealand, in their passport - their visa - they can only stay here as long as they are working for the person who is nominated on their visa."

First Union and its migrant branch UNIMEG said migrant worker issues had stayed under the radar because many foreign workers were employed in small businesses working for other immigrants.

The unions said, in those circumstances, it was easy for employers to take advantage of their workers.

Dennis Maga from UNIMEG said migrant workers were always worried about losing their work visas and facing deportation.

He said employers could entice them to work long hours in order to keep their jobs, and because many small employers were migrants themselves, could often be unaware of their obligations in this country.

First Union and UNIMEG want immigration officials to follow up with checks on employers who hire foreign workers.

The Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment (MBIE) said its officials were well aware of the issues surrounding migrant workers.

Mason said his department had been working alongside the Immigration Department to improve protections for migrant workers.

In cases such as Connie's, where an employment case is pending, George Mason said changes would allow the worker to stay in the country legally until their case was resolved.

There is no exact timeframe on when the changes will be rolled out, however, ONE News has been told to expect improved protections for vulnerable workers before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Connie is staying with friends as she awaits her employment hearing. She has met with immigration officials who have said they were looking into her case.

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