New Zealand’s Labor government announced last week that it would ease restrictions on temporary migrant workers to address severe labor shortages in critical areas. Despite removing most COVID restrictions and reopening international travel, the Reserve Bank has described labor shortages as the worst in 50 years.
With an official unemployment rate of 3.3%, Minister of Immigration and Workplace Relations Michael Wood told the media that the immigration system was being “streamlined” to help employers struggling with a lack of workers.
A further 12,000 tourists can now come to New Zealand and work over the next year, while people with existing working holiday visas will get a six-month extension. About 4,000 working holidaymakers are in the country and more than 21,000 temporary workers have obtained their visas.
As employers resolutely oppose workers’ growing demands for wage increases above the rate of inflation, Wood has announced lower wage thresholds for migrant workers in key sectors, particularly elderly care. , hospitality, construction, meat processing and tourism.
In May the government ‘tweaked’ the immigration system to make it easier for some migrants to gain residency, with then-immigration minister Kris Faafoi saying there would be no returns to rely on low-skilled and low-paid migrants. For most jobs, employers were required to pay migrants the median wage of $27.76, which is above the legal minimum of $21.20.
Under the new rules, tourism and hospitality employers will be able to pay such workers $25 an hour. Meat processors can pay $24 for entry-level jobs, with a cap on the number of visas set at 320. Workers will get seven-month visas. The salary thresholds will be updated each year according to the evolution of the median salary.
Wood categorically denied the pay cut was discriminatory or unlawful, and said local workers would not be disadvantaged, telling Radio NZ: ‘It’s actually a positive policy that will help us secure a supply of labour. sufficient labor for the key elements of our economy and will improve the conditions of workers in these sectors.
This is a lie. The new policy is another measure that will be used, with the support of the unions, to drive down wages as inflation, currently at 7.3%, devastates workers’ living standards.
This week, 135 employees, a third of the workforce, were summarily laid off at key ski areas on Mount Ruapehu in the central North Island after one of the worst ski seasons since decades. Operator Ruapehu Alpine Lifts has closed the Turoa field, retaining only 17 of the company’s designated “essential skills” international workers to carry out technical work.
Severe restrictions remain on permanent immigration. Labor took office in 2017, allied with the Green Party and anti-immigrant NZ First, promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants, which they did. Even now, thousands of visa holders and their family members are still unable to return. Despite a desperate shortage of healthcare workers, the government has imposed draconian residency requirements on foreign applicants for nursing positions.
In another policy aimed at boosting the exploitation of temporary migrants, the Labor Party has announced a new program for Pacific Islanders that is supposed to develop “labour mobility” in the region. Trade and Export Growth Minister Phil Twyford said it would build on the ‘successes’ of the current Recognized Seasonal Employer (CSR) scheme, extending it to the meat processing sectors and seafood.
The CSR scheme, launched by the then Labor government in 2007, enables 16,000 low-paid workers from Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji to work in the $10 billion horticulture and wine industries each year. New Zealander. A similar program, launched under the Australian Rudd Labor government, has been running there since 2008.
A recent survey of Things Reporter Kirsty Johnson revealed that some RSE workers were housed six to a room, charged $150 a week to sleep in freezing, damp conditions, repeatedly falling ill and being denied paid sick leave. A worker living in a crowded motel became so ill he was coughing up blood, but his boss initially refused to take him to the doctor, telling him to go buy paracetamol instead.
The government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner, Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo, later investigated the workers’ conditions. She wrote on Twitter that many CSR workers “live in substandard, overpriced, overcrowded, damp, moldy homes with no basic amenities,” adding that some of what she saw warranted a criminal investigation. Pacific worker visas tie them to a specific employer, which Sumeo says can cause the employer to “overstep” the control of a worker’s basic rights.
Previous surveys in New Zealand and Australia have revealed the appalling conditions faced by highly vulnerable workers, who are the target of relentless assaults by employers and successive governments over conditions and wages. In March, the Vanuatu government launched its own investigation into the Australian scheme, citing concerns about exploitation.
Governments have promised CSR workers will earn enough while in New Zealand, capped at seven months a year, to send money home to their families and provide economic ‘benefits’ to fragile island economies, which highly dependent on remittances. In reality, CSR workers are mostly paid minimum wage as the base rate, before crippling deductions to cover airfare, visas, phones, housing and transportation.
Attacks on immigrant rights have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures communicated to Things under the Official Information Act revealed that complaints of exploitation and abuse increased by 259% between 2020 and 2021. Many people on temporary visas, including some under the CSR scheme, have not could not return home. Some were surviving on food stamps because visa conditions prevented them from finding work.
Canberra and Wellington have recently announced upcoming reforms to Pacific plans. The Australian Labor government will expand its program to include a four-year visa and the ability for workers to bring their families with them.
New Zealand has promised a “comprehensive review” of its program next year. Wood said the CSR program was “important for New Zealand” and the Pacific but “we have to treat people fairly”. Workers should not trust these false promises, which have been made time and time again without improving conditions.
The aim of the Australian and New Zealand governments is to tighten their grip on the Pacific region, which they consider their own colonial “backyard”. Their hypocritical references to the “family” of the Pacific are a cover for a diplomatic and military build-up in the region, supporting the US-led confrontation with China, which threatens a catastrophic war.
The New Zealand practice of importing Pacific Islanders as a source of cheap, disposable labor has a long and brutal history. In the early 1960s, thousands of Pacific workers were recruited into menial and factory jobs, only to later find themselves victims of racist immigration laws and subjected to infamous “dawn raids” forcibly expelled from the country.
CSR programs are equally inhumane, despite the fact that Pacific governments, which are heavily dependent on aid from Australia and New Zealand, have collaborated in their implementation. During a visit to New Zealand in June, Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa avoided blaming the appalling conditions faced by workers. She assured employers in the horticultural sector that her government simply wanted to “improve the quality” of the CSR system.
Like governments around the world, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s administration has for years sought to scapegoat immigrants for the housing crisis, social inequality and strain on public services. Its cynical measures to intensify the exploitation of migrant workers are part of its growing assault on the entire working class.