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Low pay rates and expensive immigration process, concerns Filipino migrants the most: E tū

Low pay rates and expensive immigration process, concerns Filipino migrants the most: E tū

A report released on August 26, which was commissioned by E tū, and was funded by the Industrial Relations Fund, has revealed the experiences of mostly Filipino construction workers in Christchurch and Auckland in 2017 and 2018. A small number of employers from around New Zealand was also interviewed. Along with low pay, and poor housing emerging as critical issues, the report, by researcher and lawyer, Catriona MacLennan, also reveals wide-spread exploitation of migrants by immigration companies and so-called pastoral care companies.

The key findings:

  • The average hourly pay rate in the construction industry in New Zealand in the first quarter of 2018 was $29.00. Not one of the Filipino workers interviewed was paid as much as that, despite many of them having years, or decades, of experience in their trades.
  • The Filipino migrant construction workers interviewed appeared to the researcher to be significantly underpaid for their experience, and also to be paid less than kiwi workers.
  • Most workers interviewed would like to remain in New Zealand and to bring their families here. The cost of the immigration process is a major barrier, particularly because of the migrants’ low pay rates.
  • Many of the Filipino workers arrived in New Zealand with large debt burdens because they paid companies to arrange their jobs here. They also had numerous deductions taken from their pay, some of which appeared to be illegal.
  • Filipino workers commonly lived in houses shared with other construction workers. They sometimes shared rooms and there were up to ten workers renting a five-bedroom house, with each paying $150 a week in rent.
  • The low pay rates for experienced construction workers raised the issue for the researcher, of whether employers bring migrant workers to New Zealand because of a skills shortage here, or whether the primary motivation is to obtain cheap labour. The lack of knowledge of current pay rates here and the uncertainty of their tenure creates a vulnerable workforce in this country.

The report recommends:

  • Statistics NZ verification of pay scales of migrants who have been in New Zealand for five years or less, to ascertain the scale of low payment of migrants.
  • Research that compares the pay rates of migrants and kiwi workers with the same years of experience and skills in their trades.
  • A Government strategy to address the potentially discriminatory practice of low pay rates for migrants in the construction sector.
  • Government-funded research into the experiences of migrant workers in dealing with visas and immigration, in particular, the expense and cost of the immigration process.
  • A Government plan to communicate with future migrant workers about the cost of permanent residency and the possibility of family re-unification.
  • A Government strategy for quality, affordable housing for migrant workers.
  • Publicly-funded programmes to provide practical information and assistance to migrants and their families to support settlement in New Zealand, including English language classes.

“For the first time there is research which shows migrant workers who are Filipino being underpaid because they are Filipino and for no other reason,” said Ron Angel, E tū Industry Coordinator Engineering and Infrastructure, adding that the issue of expensive, unhealthy housing also needs to be dealt with. “The report recommends government action, to ensure new-comers are properly supported and get the advice they need.” 

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