Teresia Teaiwa on refugee rights in the Pacific: “Mana whenua leads to mana tangata”

Teresia Teaiwa is a poet and Pacific Studies academic in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Fightback previously interviewed Teresia here.

Ian Anderson interviews Teresia on recent media coverage of Australia’s offshore detention centres.

You have said that Australian refugee centres in Manus and Nauru are exploiting the desperation of those communities, alongside the widely-reported abuse of refugees. Who benefits from exploitation and abuse in Manus and Nauru?
Well, no one truly benefits from exploitation and abuse ever. Oppressors lose their humanity in the process of dehumanizing others.

But the primary beneficiaries of Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers, refugees, and other so-called undesirables offshore are corporations like Transfield Services and Serco. The operation of detention centres in Manus and on Nauru is part of a wider industrial network that links the privatisation of prisons with defence and mining. Companies that have received contracts from the Australian state to manage the detention centres have made millions of dollars in profit—by providing minimal and sub-standard living conditions.

Of course, theoretically, the people of Manus and Nauru are supposed to benefit from the detention centres as well. I remember in the early 2000s that the huge attraction of the detention centre for Nauruans was the promise of a regular fresh water and electricity supply. In both the Manus and Nauru cases, jobs and income are considered direct benefits of the detention centres for locals.

But this is my concern: the detention centres are part of a perverse pattern of negative development. Nauru has already been environmentally decimated by phosphate mining, and to go from an extractive industry to a detention centre is nothing more than a downward spiral. No one can be uplifted by the detention—indeed, the inhumane imprisonment—of others.

In an interview with E-Tangata, you recently warned of the danger of painting a people with just one brush stroke. Is this also the warning you are offering about portrayals of Nauru in recent media coverage?
My problem with the media coverage of Manus and Nauru, especially by the New Zealand and Australian media, is that the interest has been solely driven by the detention centres. Prior to the establishment of Australia’s offshore detention centres in 2001, there was little media interest in Manus or Nauru. Of course, the media industry needs crisis in order to invest resources in investigating and reporting stories. But if we continue to use the brush stroke metaphor, what we’ve got is Manus and Nauru being painted by the media solely as detention centres, and we get very little sense of these places having a life beyond this as a reason for being.

Unfortunately, the well-meaning activism that has emerged in response to the horrific abuses of detainees has also fallen into the trap of painting Manus and Nauru as simply sites. You get placards and slogans that say “Close Nauru” or “Shut Down Manus”—as if that’s all they are—sites that can be maintained or closed down at will. Then there are the slogans that go “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru,” and the constant pairing of “hell” with the images of Manus and Nauru.

Frankly, it’s disturbing to me that human rights activists’ concerns seem to extend only to the detainees and do not seek a larger analysis of the kind of underdevelopment or negative development that makes it necessary for the communities of Manus and Nauru to accept detention centres as a solution to their development challenges.

What would policy/news/activism look like if the well-being of the people of Manus and Nauru was always kept at the centre of considerations? I feel certain that if the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans was put first, there would either be no detention centres, or the detainees would actually be well cared for.

How does your own whakapapa interact with your take on this story?
I whakapapa to Banaba or Ocean Island, which is Nauru’s twin phosphate island. The Nauruans have an oral tradition that Banaba was formed as the result of a traumatic event on Nauru.

I have had relatives and friends who have lived, worked, and married on Nauru, and I was able to visit there twice in the 1990s. I developed a great affection for the island and people from those two visits—I fell in love with the geography, especially the pinnacle formations along the coast, and the Buada Lagoon inland. But what made me realise that Nauru had so much more to offer the world than phosphate was the experience I had of running a family history workshop through the University of the South Pacific’s Nauru Centre in 1997. The Nauruan participants came from a range of ages and experiences, but what they had in common was an incredible wealth of both indigenous and worldly knowledge, a wicked sense of humour, and serious story-telling talent. I’m not sure if any of the writing from that workshop ever got published, but if outsiders could read those stories, they might be able to see how Nauru is more than just a site for Australia’s human refuse.

I have not been to Manus, but I remember when I was on my way to Madang last year, that one of the ground staff at Brisbane airport assumed that I was going to Manus when I presented my paperwork at the check-in desk. I was a bit alarmed by that—just wondering, how much traffic is there from Australia to Manus? I have a friend who has Manus whakapapa, and she was telling me that her father’s people are well-known among Papua New Guineans as peaceful and welcoming. So when the riot broke out at the detention centre there early last year and a local employee and PNG police were implicated in the events and the death of Reza Barati, she felt strongly that the detention centre was a deeply corrosive influence in the community.

As a Pacific person and as a Pacific Studies scholar living and working in Aotearoa New Zealand, I recognise that Papua New Guinea and Nauru are quite peripheral to our very Polynesian-centric sense of the Pacific. But ultimately, the indigenous peoples of the Pacific all do share the same ancestry. And the question becomes whether we care about these fellow human beings who are distant relatives of ours or not?

As you’ve noted about Britain, even imperialist nations can’t be painted with one brush stroke. Australia certainly has its own refugee rights movement, alongside a strong racist current even among the working majority. How much hope do you hold for anti-imperialist movements in countries like Australia and New Zealand?
I’d like to see more connections made between the refugee rights movement, anti-imperialist movements and indigenous rights movements in Australia and New Zealand. As I’ve said, I find it disturbing that movements concerned about refugee rights can be so disinterested in the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans, let alone Aboriginal Australians or Māori.

Unfortunately, human rights discourse these days often falls short of critiquing imperialism. And some of our socialist comrades are pretty quick to buy into one-dimensional representations of Papua New Guineans and Nauruans as primitivist brutes, without trying to nuance their analyses—not trying to understand, for example, what complex social tensions might be at play in the indigenous societies of Manus and Nauru under the circumstances.

It’s important to note, too, that the refugees and asylum seekers have quite fixed ideas about the Pacific Islands in which they find themselves detained. You can’t blame them when they are seeing the islands through the bars and fences of detention centres.

Some are very clear about the kind of life that they are after: they did not risk their lives leaving one “third world” country in order to end up in another “third world” country. But most would much rather not have had to leave their homes in the first place.

Our problem is that we have such gross inequalities across the globe, and too many of the citizens of rich countries just don’t understand how their affluence is actually a result of the impoverishment and endangerment of so many people in other countries.

In the last few days, we’ve seen riots at Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre, and our own Prime Minister John Key describe detainees as “rapists and murderers.” Do you have any comments on this unfolding situation?
From what I understand the Prime Minister was actually incorrect in his categorization of the New Zealanders being detained on Christmas Island. It’s unacceptable for a Prime Minister to be so misinformed and to spread such misinformation.

It’s also supremely ironic that someone who risked his life in military service for New Zealand and received decorations for his efforts and also at one time provided security for the Prime Minister, would find himself detained at Christmas Island as well, once he was no longer deemed a desirable immigrant in Australia.

I hope that those New Zealanders who have only begun to get interested in Australia’s detention policy because they are concerned about the welfare of their fellow citizens are able to then connect the dots to see how the logic behind the detention of asylum seekers and refugees might very easily be used against them one day.

Some of the larger questions here are about who gets to have freedom of movement across national borders, and who gets to have human rights?

Christmas Island also interests me as it is an island that attracted phosphate mining in the twentieth century like Banaba and Nauru. For me, the relentless extraction of our planet’s resources is part of the very phenomenon that produces the refugee and immigration crises we are witnessing today.

Quite simply, if people were able to look after their ancestral lands, and make fully informed choices about the kind of lives they wanted to lead, there’s a good chance we would not be in this situation.

Do you have any comments on New Zealand’s refugee policy?
There’s currently a huge debate in Hawai‘i about whether the state can accommodate refugees from Syria when Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiians make up a significant proportion of the state’s homeless population, and Micronesian migrants who are already there are facing animosity from state residents and exclusion from state services.

New Zealand has one of the lowest intakes of refugees per capita among OECD nations. And just like Hawai‘i, questions can be raised about whether New Zealand has any business increasing its refugee quota when its own people aren’t being looked after—for example, the almost 1 in 4 children living in poverty in this country. But whether we’re thinking about 260,000 New Zealand children living in poverty, or whether to raise the quota from 700 to 1200 for refugees desperately looking for safe shelter, what demands our careful attention is how the wealth and resources of this country are distributed.

But as I said earlier in relation to Manus and Nauru, we have to challenge ourselves to think about what policy/news/activism could look like if Māori were at the centre of our consideration. It won’t make things easier, by any means. But it would be a radical improvement on the way decisions are made and actions are being taken or not taken now.

What sort of coalitions are necessary, in your opinion, to undermine Australia’s regime?
If you’re talking about the regime of Australia’s detention centres, there need to be some strategic coalitions around shaping public opinion both in Australia and internationally. One important area of focus should be Australia’s bid to chair the UN Human Rights Council. Australia does not deserve to chair that council, and if human rights NGOs, indigenous rights and anti-imperialist movements can mobilize to get their bid defeated through lobbying among the G77 countries, especially, then I think we will empower Australians to hold their country more accountable for the appalling human rights abuses in the detention centres. If Australia wins their bid, there will be no incentive for the government to make any changes, because becoming chair of the UN Human Rights Council will essentially vindicate the current policy.

What can readers of this article do to challenge Australia’s abuses?
It is truly sad to me that in their first encounter with each other, Somalians and Nauruans, Iranians and Manusians, for example, are not given the chance to truly recognise each other’s dignity. This is because their encounters are being mediated by the Australian state and its contracted proxies.

Readers of this article need to demonstrate their solidarity with and concern for BOTH the refugees and the people of Nauru and Manus. The readers of this article need to put pressure on their governments and elected officials to demand accountability—and more importantly, CHANGE—from the Australian government in relation to the abuses in its offshore detention centres.

Some of the media point out that Nauru has an authoritarian government that is curbing international media access and also tampering with the judiciary and perverting the rule of law. The government of Papua New Guinea is also facing accusations of corruption and poor governance.

I hope that readers of this article will think critically about a) how Australia’s detention centre policy is exploiting the weaknesses of the governments in Nauru and PNG; b) how successive Australian governments are continuing to foster the negative development of these countries—replicating Australia’s colonial history in both countries; and c) how some New Zealanders are actually in the same detention centres as refugees; d) how Aboriginal Australians and Māori might have or make common cause with the people of Nauru and Manus, and e) how those of us who are not indigenous to Australia and New Zealand would benefit by putting indigenous people’s interests before what we believe might be our own. If we take time to think about these things, I believe that right action will flow.

Any last thoughts?
You sent me these questions before the Paris attacks, so that has been heavy on my mind as I’ve been reflecting on the situation in Australia’s detention centres in the Pacific…Australia’s “Pacific Solution.”

If the Pacific is to be a solution, it will not be in the way that Australian policy is currently positioning it.

One thing that is very clear is that Paris and Beirut and Nauru and Manus and Syria and Somalia and Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq and Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and New Zealand are all connected. But we are being connected in ways that are not of our own making. We need to reclaim our own sovereignty over these connections.

My Banaban community was relocated to Fiji by the British between 1945 and 1947—ostensibly with our leaders’ consent, but I wouldn’t say it was full and informed consent. Once we got to Fiji, and after we got over our disorientation, we realised that we could not depend on the British to safeguard our future—after all, they were gleefully mining our homeland. So we found out whose indigenous lands we had been moved to, and we paid tribute to them, acknowledging their customary stewardship. As Banabans, we never forget that we’re living in someone else’s land. That’s a lesson that has informed my understanding of what it means to be a migrant myself, and I think it’s an important paradigm shift to make.

We cannot assume that the government that welcomes or rejects or detains refugees is representative of the indigenous people of the land. Europe has lost much of its sense of indigeneity and because of World War II keeps conflating indigeneity with ethno-nationalism. But Pacific people should not surrender our ethics of hosting to either our own governments or the governments of other countries. Māori are good at asserting mana whenua. I guess that’s what I’m talking about: mana whenua leads to mana tangata; without the former, you can’t get the latter.

Elections and migrant-bashing: Full rights for migrant workers

Ni-Vanuatu migrant worker

Ni-Vanuatu migrant worker

Joe McClure, Fightback

Labour and National both have unpromising records when it comes to immigration policy. National, represented by Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse, has suffered a series of embarrassments this year. Groups of Filipino workers employed in Christchurch were found to be victims of exploitative company Tech5, which was keeping them in cramped conditions, taking $125 per person per week to “pay for the cost of their tools”, and coercing them into working for the company without complaint, or risk losing their visa and being returned to the Philippines. A recent raid on fruit picking operations in the Bay of Plenty found eight people working without visas, and more than 18 companies operating in breach of immigration requirements. In May, Woodhouse was found to have met with overseas investors and significant National party donors, including prominent Chinese businessman Donghua Liu, before deciding on their visa applications.

Labour has also been dogged by the case of Liu, when it was found that Labour leader David Cunliffe had intervened in his application, after Liu allegedly paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a Labour party fundraiser. Despite Cunliffe’s adamant claim that he never got involved with Liu’s visa application in 2014, it has been revealed that in 2003 he wrote a letter asking for Liu’s immigration application to be fast-tracked. Liu donated an undisclosed amount to Labour after the application was approved.

Labour’s hostility to immigrants (other than wealthy businessmen) was made clear in their election policy, where they announced they wanted to reduce immigration to avoid raising housing prices. Despite the party’s frequent attacks on National’s immigration stance, Deputy Labour Leader David Parker made it clear that the Labour party intend to control the number of immigrants arriving in New Zealand, reducing the number arriving without qualifications or skills of value to the New Zealand economy, and fast-tracking those instances where applicants can demonstrate that they can contribute to growing New Zealand’s GDP.

Labour party policy involves a points-based system, which ensures that immigrants are spread throughout the country rather than being concentrated in just one or two regions. In a concession to potential coalition partners such as the Green Party, Labour promised to ensure immigrants are paid no less than the minimum wage, provide training opportunities for upskilling immigrants, and increase the refugee quota from 750 per year to 1000. In contrast, the National party claims that the risk of refugees targeting New Zealand is growing, a claim echoed by NZ First leader Winston Peters.
Peters has announced his party’s position on immigration, involving increased security and a reduction in the number of student visas granted, in line with the party’s conservative ideology; however, the lack of detail in Peters’ statements prevent a clearer appraisal of his position.
In contrast, the Green Party, in their policy framework, include promises to increase the refugee quota to 1,000, with a focus on uniting families, ensuring that migrant workers are paid no less than local workers and employed in the same conditions, and will create opportunities for people on temporary visas to upskill so that they can apply for permanent residency.

Finally, MANA-Internet policy reflects a more open-borders position, in which skilled visitors from overseas can come and go from New Zealand as necessary. Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom has been a very prominent figure in immigration discussions, as his residency was granted under dubious conditions by Immigration NZ, and subsequent to this, an illegal search of his home was carried out, including the seizure of various items belonging to him.

Dotcom claims that former Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman pressured Immigration NZ to accept his residency application, as part of a deal with the US government, and to ensure he invested in the NZ economy. He further suggests that this was to make it easier for the US government to extradite him out of New Zealand, as he was accused of copyright fraud by various American media companies. According to reports released under the Official Information Act, Immigration NZ were aware of these accusations made against Dotcom, but felt that his economic contribution was more important than his legal situation.

As a result of these obfuscations and denials, Dotcom has demanded transparency in government processes, and a full review of the relevant diplomatic and intelligence agreements. MANA leader Hone Harawira has also taken up this view, as have his fellow candidates; John Minto demanded that Woodhouse explain why the NZ government was discriminating against Pacific people from Tonga and Samoa while putting out the welcome mat for anyone from Australia, irrespective of skills and criteria.

New Zealand employs numerous workers from around the Pacific each year to take part in fruit picking and other seasonal employment, and this creates a valuable opportunity for these people to work in the NZ environment, improving their English language fluency, as well as picking up skills that they can use both in New Zealand and in their home countries. However, these workers are often discriminated against, as in the example of the construction workers in Christchurch, and the MANA Movement is one of only a few parties that have promised to prevent this happening.
MANA has offered to migrant workers the same pay and conditions as local workers, without the risk of having their visas revoked, and enabling them to receive the same support as a New Zealander working in that job could expect. This is just one of the areas where Fightback stands alongside MANA, in affirming the rights of dispossessed workers, and demanding fair and reasonable treatment without discrimination, whether for migrant workers employed in New Zealand, or New Zealand-born workers.

MANA gets it right on Pacific migration

Many Pasifika migrants work in fruit-picking through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Many Pasifika migrants work in fruit-picking through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

by Byron Clark.

Following questions directed at Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse from opposition MPs and media regarding a meeting with businessman and National Party donor Donghua Liu, who in Woodhouses words “had ideas about investor policies and his experience as a migrant coming in” Woodhouse rejected the idea that the meeting was controversial, claiming there were “hundreds of examples” of people who don’t donate to political parties who have access to him and other ministers.

The MANA movement responded by issuing a press release inviting the minister to make a house call “to discuss the matter of a struggling family of three children, one of whom has a medical condition which a medical expert said would be exacerbated in a hot Pacific climate and advised strongly against the child being forced to live there”.

Significant was the statement from MANA co-president John Minto: “MANA wants to discuss with the Minister why the government discriminates against Pacific people from Tonga and Samoa while it puts out the welcome mat for anyone from Australia – irrespective of skills or any other criteria. An Australian can get off the plane, get a job and no-one bats an eyelid but Tongan and Samoan people face demeaning discrimination to enter New Zealand.”

While locally there isn’t a groundswell of support for opening New Zealand’s borders to people from the Pacific, regional labour mobility has been a key demand of Pacific countries in the ongoing negotiations for a successor to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER). “The reality is that without substantive commitments on labour mobility and development assistance, [Australia and New Zealand] will be the major beneficiaries of this Agreement.” Robert Sisilo, Lead Spokesperson for the Forum Island Countries (FICs) told the Solomon Star News on May 5th.

“We have three main demands on Labour Mobility, namely the legal certainty of the RSE and SWP labour schemes, removal of the caps or increasing the current numbers and to include employment sectors in which the FICs have a comparative advantage such as healthcare and construction.”

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme allows workers from a number of Pacific countries to come to New Zealand for fruit-picking jobs in the provinces. It was created in response to labour shortages. While under the scheme employers must give New Zealand citizens hiring priority, few citizens are moving to rural towns to take up the low wage work.

In many ways the scheme has been hugely positive for Pacific island countries, for whom labour could be considered an export, but workers who come here are at risk of the all too frequent abuses of migrant labour: underpayment of wages, violation of labour laws, substandard accommodation, and the threat of deportation if they complain about any of the above.

One ridiculous seeming example of the tight control RSE workers are put under is the actions following a group of Vanuatu workers entertaining people at a multi-cultural day in Nelson, this activity as well as busking at weekend markets were deemed to be illegal secondary employment, as the workers were only here to pick fruit. Presumably, these workers are not among Michael Woodhouse’s “hundreds of examples” of people who have access to him.

Giving workers from the Pacific the same rights in New Zealand as Australians would not immediately stop the abuses happening to RSE workers, but it would remove the threat of deportation and in doing so make it easier for those workers to join unions and have grievances addressed, at the very least it would mean no one stopping them from busking on their day off.

Taking the side of migrant workers is a principled stand in an election year where the Labour Party is hoping to ride a wave of anti-immigrant populism by talking of cutting immigrant numbers from the current 31,000 per year to somewhere between 5000 and 15,000. NZ First has gone further with policy to ban migrants from living in the major cities until they have been in the country for five years, and the Green’s have been largely silent on the issue. In this instance MANA is showing itself to be a genuine party of the dispossessed.

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…]