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Migrant exploitation complaints jump more than 250 per cent


This was the plywood box room constructed in a storeroom of a North Island liquor store that one migrant, known only as ‘DS’, called home.

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This was the plywood box room constructed in a storeroom of a North Island liquor store that one migrant, known only as ‘DS’, called home.

It might just be the most unexpected Covid related spike yet – a 259 per cent jump in complaints made about migrant worker exploitation in just one year.

Stuff obtained figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment via an Official Information Act request to ask how many complaints their Labour Inspectorate had received relating to migrant worker exploitation over the last five years.

That request was filed after Stuff revealed the case of one migrant worker, known only as “DS”, who called a plywood box in the store room of a liquor store home.

The figures revealed a huge spike from 2020 to 2021, with complaints received up from 139 to 500 – a leap of 259 per cent.

READ MORE:
* A plywood box in a liquor store backroom, home for one of New Zealand’s estimated 3000 modern day slaves
* Death of a migrant: Under the table workers building Auckland’s multi-million dollar homes
* Detach work visas: The drive to eradicate migrant worker exploitation in New Zealand
* Migrant Workers Association criticises New Zealand work visa overhaul

The number of complaints received also dwarfed the previous years, with 281 complaints received in 2017, 212 in 2018 and 159 in 2019.

According to Pacific Legal immigration lawyer Richard Small, one reason for the spike is likely Covid-related.

“Deportation switched off. Very few people, apart from criminals, have been put on a plane.”

Migrant Workers Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti said visa changes would also have helped more exploited workers find the courage to come forward.

JOHN GERRITSEN/RNZ

Migrant Workers Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti said visa changes would also have helped more exploited workers find the courage to come forward.

Small said that with deportation flights grounded due to the pandemic, it removed one tool of coercion used by exploitative employers – the threat of deportation for speaking out.

“Covid removed the bat from above their heads,” he said.

Another factor behind the explosion in complaints, according to Migrant Workers Association NZ spokesperson Anu Kaloti, is visa changes.

“A new visa category, Migrant Exploitation Protection Work Visa, a six-month open work visa, was introduced in July 2021 – MBIE have a dedicated unit to triage complaints made by exploited workers, Immigration NZ fast track the visa processing and there is no visa application fee charged,” she said.

Another factor Kaloti cited was an announcement this September about a one-off resident visa.

“Migrants eligible for residence have the courage to report their exploitation. It also helps because migrant exploitation work visa holders are among eligible visas for the resident visa 2021.”

Small said he has had “limited success with these visas”, as they are of a limited duration and clients are often still left on some form of visitor visa, “or worse still, no visa at all”.”

“Dealing with MBIE migrant exploitation secretariat and separately with Immigration NZ regarding visa’s is also very difficult.”

Immigration New Zealand verification and compliance general manager Stephan Vaughan also told Stuff that from November 1 last year to October 31 this year, INZ had initiated one active prosecution that included seven criminal charges under the Immigration Act 2009, and three prosecutions and 11 formal warnings under “employer related matters”.

Vaughan said the Labour Inspectorate received 353 reports of migrant worker exploitation over the last five calendar years that resulted in enforcement action.



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