These are some of the statements made by interviewees in New Zealand’s first evidence-based research on worker exploitation. The report suggests that exploitation in New Zealand is temporary migrant exploitation from places like the Philippines, India, Latin America, Indonesia, Russia and the Pacific Islands. Some pay recruitment fees ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000 with the guarantee of a good paying job and permanent residency, only to discover that the promises are a lie and they are exploited through control, poor or no pay and the threat of being turned into authorities.
Stand Against Slavery (SAS) CEO, Peter Mihaere, in presenting on behalf of the Human Trafficking Research Coalition (“the Coalition”) to government officials in Wellington last week said, “finally we can move on from the tiresome rhetoric of anecdotal stories to empirical evidence-based research which gives credibility to the faces of those experiencing exploitation in New Zealand.” He went on to say, “Let us be very clear, this research is just the beginning. It explores an issue we have known exists for decades but struggled to quantify and explain. We need to work together, carry out more in-depth research and put in place solutions needed for New Zealand to be exploitation and slavery free.”
SAS is one of six organisations who formed the Coalition in 2013 because of concern that New Zealand had significant amounts of anecdotal stories about exploitation, slavery and human trafficking, but no empirical evidence. ECPAT NZ, Hagar NZ, Justice Acts NZ, Raising Hope, The Préscha Initiative, and SAS agreed that we needed to get this research done and we commissioned Dr Christina Stringer and Dr Glenn Simmons of the University of Auckland to conduct the research. Justice Acts and Raising Hope have since concluded activities, and Dr Simmons withdrew due to other commitments.
Research Report Released
“Today, following two years of extremely challenging research, it is good to see this report finally published and we can stop saying ‘maybe it’s happening’, or ‘there is no evidence that this is really happening’” Mihaere said in reflecting on the project. “We started out by trying to cover every industry and every scenario, but it became clear that it was going to be extremely difficult to be exhaustive. The methodology of this research required voluntary, self-selected, participation and 105 people were courageous enough to share their experience. This is significant and it requires us to do more, now that we know from their personal experience.”
Tomorrow (15 December 2016) will see the sentencing of New Zealand’s first convicted human trafficker, Mr Ali Foraz, for trafficking fifteen Fijians into NZ. Mihaere suggests, “the judicial system needs to send a very clear message that we do not tolerate trafficking in any of its forms here in New Zealand, and a significant sentence must be delivered.”
The report found evidence of exploitation in the construction, dairy, horticulture, hospitality, international education, sex, and fishing industries. The predominant sectors are horticulture, hospitality and international education. The Coalition has developed eleven recommendation that were predominantly aimed at the New Zealand Government, but should be recommendations that all of society should respond to. A brief summary of the findings and recommendations are outlined below.
Summary of Findings
(This summary is drawn heavily from the Auckland University information release).
Dr Christina Stringer interviewed 105 people over two years. Most of the workers were working on a temporary migrant work visa, but some were New Zealand-born. The majority were men aged in their 20s to 40s.
Forms of Exploitation
The most common forms of exploitation reported were:
- Excessive working hours sometimes without breaks – up to 18-hour shifts, and 80-90 hour weeks
- No pay or severe under-payment with some temporary migrants being paid for only half of the hours worked, or earning as little as $4-$5 an hour
- No holiday pay
- No employment contracts
- Taxes deducted but not paid to the Inland Revenue
- Degrading treatment: being sworn at or insulted, denied bathroom breaks, verbal or physical abuse and threatened abuse, restriction of movement
- Cash-for-residency schemes, in which workers paid cash to their employers, which was returned to them as their “wage” – viewed as “normal” in some circles
Patterns of exploitation varied from industry to industry.
Construction: Those interviewed were mostly Filipinos hired to help in the Christchurch rebuild. They spoke of entering into debt bondage to pay exorbitant recruitment fees of around $10,000 each. Some were forced by their agents to sign blank cheques before leaving the Philippines. Upon arrival in New Zealand, their work experience documents and passports were held by their immigration advisor until they’d paid off their fees. There were anecdotal accounts of exploitation amongst migrants working in the construction industry in Auckland, for example, Chinese and Vietnamese workers.
Dairy: Over recent years, conditions have improved for Filipino dairy farm workers. But migrant dairy workers, mainly from the Philippines and South America, still described abuse, poor working conditions, lack of pay and poor treatment of animals. One farm worker reported having to milk 1,400 cows (with one other person) in the morning and the same in the afternoon; another was required to kill more than 300 bull calves with a hammer, a practice that was abhorrent to him and that he had not encountered in his home country.
Horticulture: Workers routinely received less than the minimum wage (it is common knowledge that it is easy to get a job if you are willing to accept this); some were paid as little as $5 an hour. Some employers threatened to report workers to Immigration New Zealand if they complained.
Hospitality: Workers were commonly paid for far fewer hours than the number worked – one worker reported being paid for 45-hour weeks but working 90-hour weeks. Some temporary migrants work for as little as $4 an hour, some aren’t paid at all during their trial period.
International Education: Some students worked well over the hours allowed under their visas; students from one private training establishment (PTE) said they could pay to be marked as attending classes or handing in assignments.
Sex work: Temporary migrants hired to provide cosmetic services and therapeutic massages and then expected to provide sexual services, which is unlawful for non-citizens and non-residents.
Dr Stringer says many temporary migrants tolerate exploitation so they can qualify for permanent residency or because they were coerced and/or deceived by their employer. “This research uncovers widespread abuse that’s normally hidden,” she says. “These workers’ contribution to our economy must be valued, and the vulnerable among them must be properly protected.”
Summary of Recommendations
The Coalition produced a number of recommendations, predominantly but not exclusively, aimed at the New Zealand Government.
- The government set up a human trafficking office and actively coordinate a response to human trafficking and labour exploitation in both the government and civil society sectors.
- Continue with Government-funded research into vulnerable groups including a longitudinal study spanning 2013-2030.
- Monitor industry sectors where labour exploitation is taking place and publish results.
- A private sector fund to top up government funding for research, policy and law formation, education and frontline training, victim identification and protection facilities.
- Adapt MOUs with other relevant countries to include a standard worker-recruitment agency contract, a standard employment contract, a limit on recruitment fees, ensuring the worker has at least one day off per week and that no passports are confiscated.
- A mandatory in-country induction programme for migrant workers explaining workers rights and avenues for help here in NZ.
- Establish a “red flag” system for trafficking and labour exploitation victims measured against the International Labour Organisation trafficking indicators.
- Update the 2009 New Zealand Plan of Action to Prevent People Trafficking as a matter of urgency.
- Greater training for frontline staff to assist with identifying victims.
- Review the two recent trials and current law to ascertain if it allows for effective prosecution of human trafficking.
- The Government to consider bringing in legislation similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act, which would make it unlawful for companies with forced labour in their supply chain to operate in New Zealand.
Is Worker Exploitation the same as Slavery and Human Trafficking?
It is best to describe exploitation on a continuum where at one end you have no exploitation and at the other end slavery and human trafficking. Within those two extremes you have a growing severity of exploitation, and there is evidence to suggest that if minor or low levels of exploitation are left unchecked it can develop into more serious forms, even to full blown slavery. This report has focused predominantly on severe worker exploitation but recognises that it may well have been exposed to slavery and human trafficking (see figure below).
The International Labour Organisation has developed a helpful set of indicators for adult and child victims of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. The higher the number of ticks within each indicator dimension helps to determine the severity of exploitation that exists.
To download the full report please go to: http://www.workerexploitation.co.nz/report
“There is exploitation, slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand” Mihaere advocates, “We have swept it under the carpet until now. 2016 will be remembered as the year we brought it out into the open, with the successful trial of Ali Foraz, and backed up by this significant and important research. It’s happening in our backyard and we have the opportunity to stop it. Why don’t we have the goal that we will be slave free in New Zealand, to match our so called clean and green image that world knows us by. Those who come to New Zealand for a better life have their dreams shattered and that is not who we are.”