Stamping out migrant worker exploitation

The government’s efforts to stamp out the exploitation of migrant workers will be guided by major new research by academics from the University of Auckland Business School and the University of Waikato.

Associate Professor Christina Stringer

The research, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, will investigate the nature of temporary migrant worker exploitation, including international students, identify regulatory and practical gaps and opportunities to address them.

The research team comprises Associate Professor Christina Stringer and Professor Snejina Michailova in the Department of Management and International Business, and Professor Francis Collins at the University of Waikato

Announcing the research, Immigration and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said: "While migrants bring the skills we need to grow our economy, many migrant workers, especially those on temporary and student visas, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

“Migrant exploitation takes many forms, including workers not getting paid properly, working excessive hours or in unsafe conditions. Crucially, far too many migrant workers do not feel empowered to speak up or seek help when they are being subjected to unfair conditions.”

Uniservices, the University’s commercial arm, will manage the project for MBIE. “Conducting research through a third party provides an independent and confidential space to hear from migrant and international student groups, unions and businesses,” he said.

Dr Stringer has been researching worker exploitation for nearly a decade. A study she published late 2016 suggested exploitation of migrant and New Zealand-born workers is widespread across many key industries, including horticulture, hospitality and construction. That research uncovered evidence of people working 80-90 hour weeks for $500, being paid for half the hours they work and paying their own salary to ‘buy’ permanent residency.

“The contribution of temporary migrant workers to the New Zealand economy must be valued and their vulnerabilities addressed,” said Dr Stringer.

Professor Snejina Michailova

Snejina Michailova is Professor of International Business and Associate Dean (Research) at the Business School. Much of her research focuses on the people side of international business, including modern slavery.

“We welcome this opportunity to be involved in a process to address the issue of migrant worker exploitation in New Zealand,” she said.

Professor Collins is Director of the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis at the University of Waikato. His research encompasses migration including temporary labour and educational migration.

The research team is seeking information on the bigger picture of migrant worker exploitation and welcomes all insights.

They encourage anyone who believes they are being exploited in the workplace to contact MBIE’s Immigration New Zealand on 0508 558 855 or the Labour Inspectorate on 0800 20 90 20. People can also contact CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The team expects to provide research results to MBIE by mid-2019.

Media contact

Nicola Shepheard | Media adviser
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