24 Jun 2013

Tougher penalties for exploiting migrants welcomed

6:45 am on 24 June 2013

Trade union, employer and migrant organisations have welcomed moves by the Government to impose harsher penalties on employers who exploit migrant workers.

Under planned changes to the Immigration Act, employers will face tougher sentences.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said on Sunday a specific offence of exploiting migrants who hold temporary work visas would be introduced.

Employers could face up to seven years in prison, fine of up to $100,000 or both.

If the employer is a migrant and commits the offence within 10 years of gaining residency, he or she could be deported.

An investigation was launched last week into a claim that migrant workers at an Auckland restaurant were being paid just $4 an hour. The adult minimum wage in New Zealand is $13.75 an hour.

Auckland-based Employers and Manufacturers' Association supports the move to increase penalties.

Employment services manager David Lowe says pay rates of $4 an hour are not on, and put at risk law-abiding employers who are doing the best they can.

Mr Lowe says the biggest deterrent for migrant business owners is the proposal that they be deported if found guilty of exploitation.

Council of Trade Unions' secretary Peter Conway also supports the proposed law change but wonders how willingly migrant workers will come forward to complain about exploitation.

The executive director of Auckland Regional Migrant Services, Mary Dawson, says if migrants believe the Government is taking exploitation seriously they will come forward.

Ms Dawson says once an example is made of an employer who has exploited migrant workers, that will go a long way to stamping out the problem.

Mr Woodhouse expects to introduce the amendments to the Immigration Act within a month or two and have them passed into law early next year.