The Bulletin: Migrant worker exploitation cases pile up

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Exploitation cases of migrant workers pile up, more drama around the delayed census, and Ngāpuhi hapu vote against settlement model.

A man has been arrested in the Hawke’s Bay, charged with more than a dozen counts of slavery and human trafficking in the horticulture industry, reports Radio NZ. Immigration NZ investigated the case for two years, and say the case represents “a new low” and an example of modern day slavery. But they also say exploitation of migrant workers is becoming more common, and the case certainly throws into sharp relief the many other recent examples.

And the cases really are stacking up. Last month a dairy in Christchurch was fined almost $200,000 for exploiting and underpaying a migrant worker over a four year period. Earlier this month 50 Chinese construction workers told Radio NZ they had been conned into paying exorbitantly for the privilege of working long hours at low pay in New Zealand. Immigration NZ were alerted to the exploitation of 12 Indian workers across the South Island in September. In August it was Filipino construction workers. Earlier this month the NZ Herald reported Chorus subcontractors were under investigation.

Not all of these cases are exactly like each other of course. But they’re all fundamentally about illegal, and alleged illegal behaviour. A recent case that really throws a harsh light on the often-exploitative treatment of the migrant workforce was reported on by Newshub over the weekend. At a sawmill in Napier, four Indonesian welders are currently putting in big shifts of skilled work, and coming away with about $3 an hour. And under current immigration laws, their situation is legal, somehow.

There have been studies on the migrant workforce. An Auckland University paper found that in some industries exploitation was rife – including NZ-born workers as well, but they were also industries were the migrant workforce is heavily concentrated. They included dairy farming, construction and hospitality, but one of the big ones was horticulture – the seasonal industry where complaints are regularly aired that Kiwi workers aren’t willing to do the jobs. You could argue that seasonal workers get jobs that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to by coming here. You could also argue that shows a spectrum of migrant worker exploitation is an essential component of making the system work.

Immigration NZ boss Peter Devoy told Newstalk ZB that the human trafficking and slavery case showed that things need to be changed, to prevent it ever happening again. The government launched a crackdown on migrant workers earlier this year. But a spokesperson from FIRST Union, who represents migrant workers across various industries, said in a statement that the crucial point was that migrant workers should be entitled to the same protections and rights as any other person working in New Zealand. Clearly at the moment, that isn’t happening.


There’s yet more drama around the delayed census. Stuff reports concerns that the 2020 election might not have the right data with which to redraw electorate boundaries, if needed. That might sound inconsequential, but you’d be surprised at how much seats can swing based on populations growing and shrinking. It’s possible the final numbers could even end up being challenged on that basis.

Meanwhile, it has become a political fight in and of itself, with the PM accusing the previous National government of ignoring warnings from Stats NZ that they were operating under budgetary constraints. The decision to go digital (which became a debacle) was also made under the last government’s watch. National’s spokesperson Nick Smith said that was a “cop out” from the current government, and accused Statistics minister James Shaw of being “asleep at the wheel.”


A majority of Ngāpuhi hapu have voted against the settlement model being proposed for their iwi, reports Māori TV. Disputes have raged for years now over who has the right to speak on behalf of Ngāpuhi, when dealing with the Crown. Because Ngāpuhi is the largest iwi in the country, such a settlement when it does happen will be huge – so the stakes are very high.Treaty settlements minister Andrew Little says he’s still committed to pushing for a settlement, but for now it’s back to the drawing board, reports Radio NZ.


The Prostitutes Collective and police have collaborated to create a guide for victims of sexual assault, reports One News. It’s an unusual document, because for prostitutes police have so often been people who create problems for them, rather than solutions. Police don’t keep stats on how frequently sex workers are assaulted, but it happens a lot.


The sharemarket has stopped pumping super hard recently, and the NZ Herald’s Liam Dann says it’s time to accept that the boom is over. It’s a commentary piece, so take it with all the usual caveats, by Dann says it’s clear that the extreme high growth people were seeing in their portfolios won’t keep happening – now growth is much more in line with what you’d get if you chucked it in a bank account.


ACC has spent millions of dollars spying on claimants who they think could be dodgy, reports Stuff. They say it saves them more money than they spend, but have a look at the surveillance photos in the story – the whole exercise also comes across as really creepy.


In dairy news, Synlait Milk is prowling for farmer suppliers to sign up, to make use of their new plant in Pokeno, reports the NBR (paywalled.) The challenger has been doing well recently, while the giant Fonterra has been undergoing struggles. The factory is scheduled to be ready by ready for the 2019//20 season.


Here’s an amazing piece of writing from NZ Geographic about those who have escaped or been expelled from Gloriavale. It’s almost impossible to imagine how wrenching and traumatic it would be to leave behind your whole world like that, but somehow the people who do leave have to figure out how to go on. This story does a really good job of making that journey understandable – even just a little bit.


Now, just a bit of housekeeping for all the regular readers. The last edition of The Bulletin for the year will be on Christmas Eve – that’s next Monday. And because the news really does slow down for a while after that, I’ll be off until the 21st of January next year. So if you’re wondering where it is over those weeks – don’t worry, it’s coming back in 2019. I for one cannot wait to do whatever it is normal people do when they’re not reading news obsessively.


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Golriz Ghahraman. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Right now on The Spinoff: You might have heard there was drama at the Hamilton Press Club recently following a speech by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman – so here’s that speech. Alice Neville has gone behind the scenes of a hāngī for this wonderful video documentary. Ollie Neas continues his series on Rocket Lab’s quiet but strong ties to the US Defence Industry, noting that over the weekend a new first in that relationship was achieved. And Sam Brooks has a rundown of what to watch on Lightbox over summer, whether you’re a wine mum, angry teen, or some other crabby classification.

And this deserves a mention – Henry Oliver has wrapped up the season of Project Runway reviews. But the real reason I’m mentioning him is because congratulations are in order – Henry is off to go and be the new editor of Metro Magazine. It’s a huge and well deserved step up, and we’re all thrilled for him.


Best Journalism of 2018: Today’s nomination comes from Sam, who has sent in this story from the Pantograph Punch about the PACE programme. That was a scheme to fund artists that to the arts community, was often the lifeblood of their work. The reason why I like this piece so much is that it’s a masterpiece of long-form storytelling, and the use of stories from people to outline what could otherwise have been a pretty dry discussion of policy. Here’s a bit of the intro so you get the gist:

“I had to fight pretty hard,” Nisha remembers. “I had to show lots of evidence that I’d been to auditions, that I’m a working actor, that I had independently produced shows myself and I’d informally set up a theatre company. I remember it being a pretty dirty fight with my case manager.”

Nisha fought the dragon and won. Her case manager gave in and she was put on the Pathway to Arts and Cultural Employment programme, PACE for short. She got a PACE supervisor, a man named Lynn Lawton. “This guy was amazing,” Nisha continues. At their first meeting, she’d laid out the evidence of her grind yet again and then told him, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna go and do a trial at a café.”

Lynn did a double take. “WHAT? Why are you doing that?”

“Oh, you know, because I’ve gotta have a job.”

“No no no,” Lynn replied. “You’re already doing a full-time job. That’s what this money is for. This isn’t an unemployment benefit.”

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The Basin Reserve has witnessed a remarkable, astonishing epic from Black Caps opener Tom Latham. Here’s a rundown from Cricinfo of the innings of 264 not out by the numbers – there’s a few to take in, but my favourite is 0. That’s the number of batsmen who have scored a bigger test innings than Latham this year. At stumps, the Black Caps were well on top, picking up three quick wickets before the close of play last night.


From our partners at Vector: The pros and cons of putting solar panels on the roof of your home are well debated. But what about the empty rooftop spaces on commercial buildings throughout our country? PowerSmart’s Sam Vivian explains why more New Zealand businesses are adding commercial solar systems to their buildings.


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