Migrant worker mistreatment highlighted by ERA case

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Concern over the exploitation of migrant workers has, once again, been ushered into the spotlight with the release of yet another Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision on a mistreated migrant worker.

In the latest case, a Chinese man took a chef job advertised on a Chinese website. The job provided him with a New Zealand work visa, but his employers made him pay them $13,000 “to help with the business” – by threatening his job security and work visa. In eight months of employment, he was paid five times and he was not informed when the business closed down.

The ERA found that the man’s employers had breached the Employment Relations Act by failing to pay him regularly, failing to keep and provide wage and time records, and by forcing him to pay an illegal employment premium. It also found that he had been unjustifiably dismissed, and ordered that he be paid $33,328 in unpaid wages and compensation. Further, the company was fined $14,000.

However, the man’s employment advocate May Moncur told the New Zealand Herald that the case was just the latest in a series of similar cases revolving around wage abuses and enforced fees to secure jobs or visas. Such breaches of the rights of migrant workers would keep occurring because the workers were scared to speak out against their employers who often threatened them, she said.

Public attention has focused on the issue several times recently. Earlier this year, then Labour minister Kate Wilkinson ordered an urgent investigation into claims that migrant workers are being exploited and underpaid by small-business owners. And, in August, a network was established to support, provide information to, and advocate for migrant workers.

Key HR takeaway:

Under New Zealand law, migrant workers have the same rights and entitlements as all workers in the country. This includes the right to an employment agreement as well as union access and representation. Migrant workers are also awarded the same protections under health and safety law and anti-discrimination law.

Further information about employing migrant workers in New Zealand is available from:

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