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New Zealand Migrant Workers Complain of Exploitation; Law Proposed to Make Worker Abuse a Crime

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By Reissa Su | January 6, 2014 5:25 PM EST

Migrant workers in New Zealand may soon enjoy the benefits of a proposed law to make migrant abuse a criminal offence. New Zealand Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse remarked a change in migrant protection laws will help improve the welfare of foreign workers in the country. The proposed change came after allegations of exploitation of migrant workers in Christchurch.

REUTERS/ Christine Brooks
Dust rises from rocks were falling from a cliff in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner moments after an earthquake struck December 23, 2011.

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Unions have reported that migrant workers involved in the rebuilding of Christchurch were not paid for months of work while others were being forced to do their jobs on the weekends for free.

Mr Woodhouse plans to make it illegal for employers to exploit legal migrant workers. Construction jobs will reportedly be in demand in 2014 as Canterbury rebuilds.

Denis Maga from the First Union claimed some Filipino migrant workers had no money last Christmas because they were not paid for months. They have been struggling since then to pay for food and rent.  Mr Maga said even their families back home have suffered since they will not be receiving financial support anytime soon.

First Union has provided assistance in two cases of migrant worker exploitation, one of which involved 40 workers who have been forced to report on Saturdays without compensation.

The Council of Trade Unions rebuilding coordinator, Paul Watson, remarked the two cases may have barely scratched the surface of the real situation of migrant workers. Mr Watson added that something must be done, unless the city wants to be known for exploitation of migrant workers.

Filipino workers who are involved in the case declined to appear for interviews for fear of losing their jobs and work permits.

Mr Woodhouse explained that there is current legislation to protect illegal workers from exploitation, but he believes it's time for legitimate workers to have the same protection as well. Severe penalties will be imposed on those who violate the law. He said fines could reach as much as $100,000 or seven years in prison. 

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(Photo: REUTERS/ Christine Brooks / )
Dust rises from rocks were falling from a cliff in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner moments after an earthquake struck December 23, 2011.
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