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Abuse of Migrant Labour

Earlier this year, owners of the 3 Kings restaurant in Auckland, Luisito and Virgil Balajadia were sentenced to 26 months in prison and eight months home detention respectively for their treatment of their Filipino employees. That ruling was upheld recently by the Court of Appeal. The worker’s conditions were reported as being akin to modern day slavery. I am sorry to say that we are coming across employment situations in the Wairarapa that are comparable to the Auckland case. Abuses typically include being made to work very long hours and weekends, with inadequate rest breaks, but only being paid for a 40-hour week, and sometimes not being paid at all.

Some workers are brought to New Zealand believing that they are beholden to their employer. Immigration New Zealand, rather oddly in my view, issues certain types of work visas that attach to a particular workplace, rather than to a type of role. This means that any breakdown in relationships between employer and employee can threaten the worker’s immigration status. The worker cannot simply look for the same type of work with another employer when things go wrong. This gives the employer breath-taking power over their migrant workers. There will always be those who abuse power and when they do, workers can be caught in horrific situations feeling they have no way out. Migrant workers often do not know their rights, who to turn to for help, and who they can trust. It is a frightening situation.

Employment New Zealand is part of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. Within Employment New Zealand is a Labour Inspectorate. The Labour Inspectorate works to ensure that employers comply with minimum standards set down in legislation and it has quite broad powers. It seems that the Inspectorate is currently taking a strong interest in potential abuses of migrant workers. An individual caught in an abusive work situation will usually need their own representative for parts of the matter. Labour Inspectors don’t give advice about general parts of disputes, certain contractual matters contained in employment agreements, or pay rates except minimum wage. We are encountering clients who are not sure who is on their side and who they can trust. We are fortunate here in New Zealand, that you cannot buy the favour of a judge or a Labour Inspector, and employment lawyers and advocates do not collude against the interests of their clients.

If you are caught in an abusive work situation, or you know of any such abuses, the Labour Inspectorate is the right place to complain to at first instance. You can trust that any lawyer or advocate you engage will act only for you, and if the Police become involved, they too will act only to uphold the law.

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