A young migrant woman’s experience of work in NZ

Unite Burger King occupation: "Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages."

Unite Burger King occupation: “Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages.”

Wei Sun (Fightback, Christchurch)

After the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) in 1840 anyone could immigrate to New Zealand, while most settlers in the nineteenth century came from the UK, substantial numbers of Chinese labours immigrated to work on the goldfields of Otago. These migrants faced discrimination from white migrants but were not discriminated against in law until 1881 when a ‘poll tax’ was introduced for Chinese entering New Zealand.

The 1920 Immigration Restriction Act allowed the Minister of Customs to exclude any people who were ‘unsuitable’. While not officially adopting the ‘White New Zealand’ immigration policy, the law was used in practice to restrict the immigration of Asian people, especially Chinese. The idea of a ‘White New Zealand’ was supported by the early Labour as well as the Liberal and Reform parties (forerunners of National, which formed when they merged).

While Asian students began coming to New Zealand to study under the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, some choosing to stay after completing study, the 1920 law was used to restrict Asian immigration throughout most of the twentieth century. From 1974 criteria for entry to New Zealand gradually changed from race or nationality to merits and skills, but it wasn’t until the 1987 Immigration Act that legal discrimination against some races and nationalities was ended.

Today migrant workers are still struggling for their equal rights.  Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages. Even some of those who have worked there for over ten years are still struggling on minimum wage. One of the biggest issues presented is the exploitation and bullying of migrant workers.

Many employers threaten their migrant workers by saying they might withdraw the workers’ work visa. Thus many migrants end up working under unreasonable working conditions and extremely low wages. While some unions still maintain a hostile attitude towards immigrants, Unite has made an impact organising in migrant workers in fast food, an industry which employs a large number of international students.

As an international student myself, I am currently holding a student visa and I am allowed to work up to 20 hours a week except for summer and winter holidays. In 2011, which was my first year in New Zealand, I had three jobs at different Chinese restaurants in Christchurch. Due to my lack of knowledge of New Zealand’s employment law and a strong English language barrier, I believed that it is ‘normal’ and ‘reasonable’ to work on nine dollars an hour in the first three-month trial period. At all of these restaurants I was getting paid cash.

I was being told off all the time. My bosses pointed at my nose and yelled at me almost every time I was on my shift, mostly because I was not moving fast enough or smiling enough to the customers.  I had to cover all the ‘losses’ made by myself due to careless working. The worst times were when the till was fifty dollars short, or when customers ran away without paying the bills.

The first place I worked at was called Zest Noodle House. My bosses would tell me to leave when there were not enough customers so they could just work by themselves. Sometimes after a long commute to work they told me to leave after one and half or two hours because it was not ‘busy enough’.

I signed the date, my name, starting time and finishing time of the day on a notebook they had for all the staff, and they paid every one of us cash on our last shift of the week. Unsurprisingly, the cash was always short, sometimes 50 cents, sometimes a few dollars.

I ended up quitting the job, like all the other previous staff had. I never got time and a half pay on public holidays, or sick pay. As I heard from previous co-workers and Chinese friends, this sort of thing is a common experience, and a common response; leaving instead of reporting the employers or taking other action. It is a sad but ‘normal’ thing that we are all shy, scared, or confused and never tell anyone else or get help.

Now it has been over two years since I was employed by those Chinese restaurants’ owners, and I do regret not standing up for myself and the co-workers. Of course horrible things as such do not just happen to us Chinese girls. One of my Thai friends told me the situation is exactly the same at the restaurant she was working at. She was threatened that her visa would be withdrawn if she refused to get paid ten dollars per hour cash.

More recently I was employed at a dairy shop in south west Christchurch. I was extremely happy when they decided to hire me, because they agreed to pay me proper minimum wage and tax to the government rather than cash ‘under the table’, but I left after one year due to sexual harassment over the last two months at the dairy shop.

One shift I was doing the ‘end of the day settlement’ and closing the shop, my boss threw 50-dollar note at my face, ‘he said the camera was off and no one would ever know, plus I needed cash anyway’. I said there is no way I am going to do that, and then quit the job not long after.

I had a long talk with him. I said “Look, you’ve got a lovely wife and a 23-year-old daughter. If you stop doing this, I will not report you, because your wife (the other boss of mine) is the nicest boss I have ever had. But you have to promise to stop doing this, otherwise I really will go report you” He agreed.

A little over six months since I quit the job at the dairy, a young woman who works at a neighbouring shop (owned by the same people as the dairy shop) contacted me and told me that the boss attempted to harass another Chinese girl who works there, who then quit.

This time I will not let him go. We have agreed that the girl from the dairy, the girl from the neighbouring shop, and I are going to report this boss together.

At the beginning of last year, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies pointed out that Kiwi xenophobia has been growing. I have experienced Xenophobia myself. Some employers only seek for similar values and beliefs, and avoid ‘the others’.

Maintaining a work visa is of upmost importance to many migrant workers. To some of us, the most difficult condition we face is that we could be arrested and deported for militant action. But since we have the most to lose from militant action, sometimes we do know a lot about unionism and politics.

A Japanese friend of mine also told me that his previous boss promised to get him a work visa for his permanent residency if he agreed to work under certain wage and conditions. He worked for a year, but the work visa or residency never happened.

Migrant workers are part of the working class too. Regardless of our ethnicity, we do work and we contribute to New Zealand society. We bring our experiences from our home countries, and help the New Zealand working class to be more cosmopolitan and international. It is important to defend all workers against attacks, including the controls put on migrant workers that help maintain their oppression and exploitation. Capitalism exploits the global working class as a whole, therefore, the more we unite workers together, not divide workers along lines of race or nationality, the stronger we get, and the better we can fight against the system itself.

Bid for recognition of first official climate change refugee

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Ioane Teitiota is currently appealing a High Court decision that refused him refugee status on the basis of climate change predictions. Teitiota came to New Zealand from the Pacific island of Kiribati in 2007 on a work visa that has recently expired. He has three children in New Zealand and argues that returning to Kiribati would endanger his family;

“There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” he told the appeal tribunal, adding that a return would pose a risk to his children’s health. “Fresh water is a basic human right … the Kiribati government is unable, and perhaps unwilling, to guarantee these things because it’s completely beyond their control”.

His lawyer Michael Kitt told the New Zealand Herald that the case had the potential to set an international precedent, not only for Kiribati’s 100,000 residents but for all populations threatened by climate change. According to the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, around 26 million people worldwide have had to migrate due to the effects of climate change. It predicts that this figure could go up to 150 million by 2050.

Teitota’s application for refugee status was originally denied by immigration authorities arguing that he could not be considered a refugee because no one in his homeland was threatening his life if he returned. Kitt countered by arguing that the environment in Kiribati was effectively a threat to Teitiota and his children who will have to return with him if he is deported.

Rising ocean levels on Kiribati are contaminating drinking water and killing crops, as well as flooding homes.

The threat is real- the government has even gone so far as buying a large area of land in Fiji to relocate the entire population. “We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” President Anote Tong told the Associated Press last year when his cabinet endorsed the plan.

Kitt told Australian media that the Pacific regions developed countries had a responsibility to help people displaced by climate change. “Australia and New Zealand are contributors to climate change because we have higher than average carbon dioxide emissions, it’s because of this problem that sea levels are rising.”

The right of migrant workers to free movement is essential not only for climate justice, but for social justice in the Pacific and worldwide.

A decision on Teitiota’s case is expected after we go to press. A follow up to this article will appear in our November issue.

See also:

NZ and Pacific nations still poles apart on labour mobility

Byron Clark

Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

A worker on the Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

On September 26th acting NZ High Commissioner Sarah Wong joined Barret Salato, Director of the Solomon Islands Labour Mobility Unit in Honiara to make an announcement about Solomon Islanders working in New Zealand. “In 2014 [The] Solomon Islands will be allocated 594 RSE places” read their joint statement.

RSE stands for Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme; the scheme allows workers from a number of Pacific countries to take seasonal jobs in New Zealand. These jobs are in the horticulture and viticulture industries, where the rural location and short term nature of the work makes them unappealing to New Zealand born workers, meaning there are frequently shortages of labour despite unemployment in urban areas.

“This is an outstanding result for Solomon Islands and represents an increase of more than 20% on the number of places allocated in 2013,” said Salato “The RSE scheme is employer driven, meaning the increase in available spaces has been a result of the performance of Solomon Islanders who worked in New Zealand last season. Their exceptional performance has been rewarded with Solomon Islands receiving an extra 120 places.” [Read more...]

Solidarity needed: Stop increases to migrant seasonal workers health insurance

Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

An RSE worker

The death this year of a Tongan worker employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme has sparked discussions between Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the insurance company he paid for his health cover. The issue is whether the worker died because of a pre-existing condition or from a new condition or accident.

The RSE scheme allows employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries to bring in migrant workers, mostly from the South Pacific, during the busy season to fill labour shortages. Although these workers pay tax in New Zealand they are not eligible for public health care and require private health insurance.

The ministry’s deputy chief executive, Meleoni Uera, told Radio New Zealand International that the policy needs to be revised even if it results in RSE workers – on top of taxes – having to pay higher insurance premiums and also pay for additional mandatory medical checks.

“It is an area that we will look at… (with) thorough discussion with different parties because cost will be involved in the whole process, and for a lot of this it will be the seasonal workers currently, they bear the cost of any additional checks.”

The cause of death is unknown. The man was the second Tongan RSE worker to die while working in New Zealand in the last six years. The other died of a heart attack. A Ni-Vanuatu worker also died in New Zealand in that time.

The New Zealand-based Tonga Advisory Council is reminding potential applicants for the RSE scheme to make full disclosures, particularly about health.

Being required to pay taxes, but not receive public health care is disadvantaging to RSE workers. The attitude of internal affairs is to increase that disadvantage by increasing the already burdensome costs of health insurance. These are the types of disadvantages that migrant workers frequently face.

The government will seek to show that RSE workers with medical conditions are ‘cheating’ the system. The issue then is why people would travel to a foreign country when they have serious health issues. The answer is simple; people are becoming desperate in the search for comparably better incomes than are available in their own countries. It is the same with the 53,700 people, in 2012 alone, who left New Zealand looking for a better life in Australia.

Just as some Australian unions show common cause with New Zealand workers in Australia, workers in New Zealand must align themselves with the RSE workers here. New Zealand residents do not gain anything from the exploitation or ill-treatment of RSE workers. And they certainly won’t profit from the New Zealand government forcing tax-paying RSE workers to pay higher premiums to insurance companies.

Iwi may be compensated for end of seaborne sweatshops

Byron Clarkfish

A government agency has warned that the state may have to pay iwi upwards of $300 million in compensation for losing their access to foreign charter vessels (FCVs). The foreign ships became notorious for paying crews of mostly Indonesian workers less than New Zealand’s minimum wage, despite fishing in the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Last year 32 fishermen aboard the Korean owned Oyang 75 jumped ship in Lyttelton alleging unpaid wages as well as physical and sexual abuse by their superiors on the ship. Another vessel owned by the same outfit had previously sunk causing the deaths of six crew members. In May the government began to prepare legislation for a ban on FCVs after media (largely Sunday Star Times journalist Michael Field) and the University of Auckland Business School began publishing findings on mistreatment of workers. The ban will be implemented over the next four years.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has noted that as the FCVs were being used to fish the mainly Treaty of Waitangi fisheries quota allocated to iwi, the ban would disproportionately impact on Maori and iwi quota holders. Under treaty legislation, iwi are entitled to compensation for changes in government policy. MPI said that a “worst case scenario could result in a loss in export revenues of around $300 million annually.”  [Read more...]

Australia: Hundreds rally for refugees outside detention centre gates

Demonstration in MelbourneBy Chris Peterson, Melbourne
First published in Green Left Weekly

About 200 people rallied at Melbourne’s Maribyrnong Detention Centre on September 22, against deporting refugees to danger and mandatory detention. Dayan Anthony, a Tamil refugee, was deported to Sri Lanka in July against his will from Maribyrnong.

Antony’s Lawyer Sanmati Verma said: “Each and every professional and all community members in contact with Dayan Anthony attested that he was a torture survivor. And yet he was put on a plane and yet he was sent back to Sri Lanka.

“He was interrogated there for 16 hours by the notorious Criminal Investigation Department in the presence of Australian personnel. This deportation is the talk of law over the spirit of justice. “Regimes that commit war crimes are not magically transformed thee years later. We live in an age where the language of care has been hijacked from us. We are either on the side of Nauru or the side of people dying in the sea. This false discourse created by the expert panel [on asylum seekers] needs to be changed abolished.” [Read more...]

Examining regional mobility

Byron Clark

The recent Australian census revealed that 483,000 New Zealanders are currently living in Australia. 130,000 of them are Maori. The figures have provoked some coverage in the media, including a number of articles quoting William Bourke, the founder and director of the Stable Population Party, which wants an end to the Trans-Tasman Travel agreement that allows New Zealanders to live and work in Australia. The party, with a level of support that sees it lumped in the ‘others’ statistic in polls, represents the most reactionary wing of the environmental movement, those that see the problem as one of ‘too many people’. Another policy is ending parental leave for women having more than two children.

Australian recruitment firms are looking for workers in New Zealand to fill a supposed labour shortage in Western Australia. Over a thousand people have registered for a “fly in, fly out” scheme that would see New Zealanders spend five weeks in Western Australia and then two weeks back home. They would be paid in New Zealand dollars to New Zealand bank accounts. In Kaikohe, an impoverished town in the far North with a population of 4100, one in every six people have signed up to work in Australian mines. 2499 people in and around Kaikohe are receiving an unemployment benefit, so earning prospects of NZ$127,000 to NZ$180,000pa are a huge draw card.

Salaries are well in excess of even what a skilled miner would earn locally, NZ$85,000 and NZ$90,000pa. The work is not easy though- Twelve-hour days, seven days a week in 40 to 50 degree Celsius heat in the middle of the dusty outback. This is the definition of the Australian expression “hard yakka”. Hamilton builder Tim Bennett, 24, who went to work in Western Australia to pay off debt working in exploration drilling told TVNZ that the lifestyle was “miserable”.

“We were lucky if we got to stay in a caravan park. Sometimes it was just tents and a caravan out in the desert.” [Read more...]

Solidarity with the Oyang 75 Crew

32 Indonesian fishermen previously working aboard the Korean fishing vessel Oyang 75 are currently ashore in Christchurch. These workers are seeking redress for unpaid wages and other violations of their rights. Government policy mandates that the same terms and conditions be given to workers on foreign charter vessels in New Zealand waters as to local citizens, but most members of the Indonesian crew are recieving annual incomes of between $6,700 and $11,600, well below the minimum wage.

 

The crew recently used what little money they have to appeal their looming deportation. Not currently working and not eligible for welfare in New Zealand the workers are reliant on donations of food and money. Workers Party Christchurch branch organiser Byron Clark and branch secretary Kelly Pope met with the crew on Saturday (Aug. 13) and delivered 20kg of rice donated from the Christchurch Workers Party branch and a bag of vegetables donated by the Okeover community garden.

 

“These young men- and I was surprised by how young they all are- really demonstrate the way migrant labour is exploited in New Zealand” said Clark. “These sailors suffered beatings, overwork, sexual harassment and inadequate pay while working in this country’s economic zone, and now the state wants to deport them before those grievances have been addressed”

 

The Workers Party is planning further solidarity work with the Indonesian crew. The Canterbury Indonesian Society is collecting donations for food and other expenses incurred by the crew, such as accommodation and the school fees of their children in Indonesia. they can be made to the account 12 3147 0278609 00 with the reference ‘Fishing Crew’.

Australian socialists on border controls

From the July 2011 issue of The Spark

On World Refugee Day, the 19th of June 2011, hundreds of people marched in Melbourne under the slogan “unite to end mandatory detention.” After the march Ian Anderson who is on the editorial team of The Spark caught up with leading members of the Socialist Party of Australia, Mel Gregson and Anthony Main.

The Spark: So the movement against mandatory detention of refugees has made headlines in recent months. Could you go a bit into the background of this?

AM: Australia has practiced mandatory detention of refugees since 1992, when it was introduced under the Labor government. Refugees arriving by boats are placed in detention centres while their claims are processed. Often this takes months, and in some cases 6-7 years to process, while the refugees are kept like animals. At various points the mass anger and frustration over these brutal conditions have led to protests and riots. There is also a small but growing solidarity movement on the mainland.

MG: The Howard government tried to negate Australia’s obligations under the UN treaty by processing refugees offshore, at detention centres on Christmas Island, in Nauru, Papa New Guinea and elsewhere. The Rudd government was elected in 2007 on a platform of a “more humane” refugee policy, but ultimately reverted to a similar policy to the Howard government. Most recently, the Gillard government announced a policy of sending refugees to Malaysia. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention, and even deploys state-sanctioned militias to cane refugees. There are numerous deaths and tens of thousands of canings a year. [Read more...]

New Pamphlet – Open Borders

A new pamphlet published by the Workers Party explores our policy of open borders. The pamphlet included frequently asked questions, an essay on the racist history of New Zealand’s immigration controls, a case study of how to fight deportations and an interview with Dennis Maga of the migrant workers organisation Migrante Aotearoa.

Open Borders Pamphlet (PDF)

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