Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Avalanche of new migrant worker exploitation stories, National disavows bizarre Luxon-advocating ad, and Afterpay throws tantrum over possible regulation.
In the space of this year alone, a staggering number of cases of migrant worker exploitation have been exposed or prosecuted. There are unifying themes to them – they tend to happen in industries that already have low pay, and they tend to be jobs that are largely out of sight. It’s also an issue that has been covered in The Bulletin before, but given the weight of new cases, it’s worth revisiting again.
The most recent ones, which are the impetus behind today’s edition, have been reported by Stuff. Amanda Cropp reports dozens of Filipino migrant workers have been paying to live in prefab cabins in an old warehouse, which were found to have serious fire risks. In fact, Auckland Council considered the dwellings so dangerous they issued an abatement notice to close them down. Also over the weekend, Debrin Foxcroft reported on the case of a liquor store worker who made an average of just under $7 an hour. He did it because the boss was dangling the prospect of supporting his residency over his head.
You barely have to look far to see how many other newsrooms have covered issues in this area. There were the mass breaches uncovered by One News in the construction sector. There were the sweet shop owners jailed for multiple counts of exploitation reported on by the NZ Herald. The Spinoff looked into the poor pay and housing conditions given to migrant workers in the trucking industry. There were the illegal contracts Filipino workers were given to sign, uncovered by Newshub.
It goes on and on. And one of the reasons it goes on and on is because the immigration system makes such abuses all but inevitable, reports Newshub. Migrant workers are effectively bonded to their employers, meaning that the employers hold an immense amount of power over them. They can be forced out of the country if they lose the job. Prosecutions get brought against some dodgy employers, and there are hopes among advocates that such actions will send a message to other employers. But all the while, those same conditions persist, and there’s no telling how many cases simply never get exposed.
So what is being done about it? There’s a review under way, which won’t be finished for a while. The details come at the end of this Stuff story, about the daily calls migrant worker advocate Anu Kaloti gets from those needing support. Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway says while the review takes place, enforcement action against those breaking the law will continue. And the Labour Inspectorate got more funding last year in an effort to increase their overall capacity. But a quote from Anu Kaloti stands out as summing up why this is a systemic problem, rather than a case of a few bad apples: “Until and unless they open the visas, by not tying them to employers, we will continue to see this and the exploitation won’t stop.”
A rather bizarre story around a political ad broke over the weekend. Jihee Junn reported on it for The Spinoff – basically, an ad was placed in the NZ Herald that promoted outgoing Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon as the next John Key, and through hashtags urged people to vote for him and National. The only problem – the party itself had nothing to do with it being placed. The Electoral Commission will be looking into the matter, as such an ad could be considered as breaking the law.
Credit purchasing service Afterpay appears to be throwing a massive tantrum over hints they might be covered by future regulation, reports Interest. They’ve threatened to pull out of New Zealand altogether if so-called ‘buy now, pay later’ services end up being included in the Credit Contracts Legislation Amendment, which is designed to crack down on predatory lending practices. They say that’s not their business model, though as The Spinoff reported last year, they’re still effectively “purveyors of debt” who make significant amounts of money through charging late payment fees.
Scientists have confirmed one of the more concerning aspects of climate change for NZ: it will mean more intense rain events in susceptible parts of the country. The NZ Herald (paywalled) reports this morning that will mean there will be a lot more water in the wrong places, with the South and West of the South Island in particular danger. These sorts of rain events aren’t just a long drizzly day either – think about it more like the flash flood causing deluge around the West Coast, that swept away a bridge, and broke apart a dump leading to rubbish being spewed into the Fox River. As always with these stories, the mitigation is simple – lower emissions will mean less future damage.
There’s been a new development this morning regarding claims of emboldened white supremacy at Auckland University. Radio NZ reports a staff member says they were silenced by senior management, after raising concerns about a particular student’s statements. They also say the university isn’t taking the issue seriously. For background on the story, here’s some of the earlier reporting on the concerns from The Spinoff.
To follow up the story from last week of the Bluff seafood workers facing redundancy, here’s an example of what those job losses will mean. The ODT has spoken to 61 year old Karen Wilson, who has spent half her life working for Sanford, and been the main breadwinner for her family too. Now, she says she is being treated “like a number”, and that she’ll have few other employment prospects in the town.
The government has accelerated a review of the Overseas Investment Act after concerns raised by farming groups, reports Farmers Weekly. It will look at whether changes in government policy have had – particularly around forestry. The government has also pushed back very hard against suggestions that the current conversions towards forestry are anything out of the ordinary – they point to the fact that it follows a decade in which thousands of hectares were deforested.
Wellington is also seeing growth in the popularity of public transport, reports Radio NZ. That has included big growth in train user numbers, which have received plenty of investment over the last decade. It just goes to show – people are more than happy to get out of their cars if the service is there.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Dr Kate Nicholls says it is well past time for lobbying to be regulated, in the wake of the GJ Thompson conflict of interest saga. Alice Webb-Liddall meets the people behind the first ever art gallery to exist in the suburb of Ōtāhuhu. Bella Katz writes about the opportunities across the Tasman for NZ firms who target the luxury end of the market. And Alex Casey breaks down the Celebrity Treasure Island 2019 lineup, what their charities are, and whether you have any reason to have heard of them before.
For a feature today, here’s an excellent piece on the survival and success of community newspapers from North and South magazine. It’s really pertinent just after figures came out showing fresh declines in sales for pretty much every paper – yet for these hyper local publications, there’s even the possibility of growth in the future. Is it the answer to the woes of the industry? Not necessarily, but many of them are doing the hard yards on local government reporting, which is vital for the overall health of democracy. Here’s an excerpt about one of my favourites:
The Wairarapa Times-Age employs an editor, five general reporters, a sports reporter and a journalist who looks after Wairarapa Midweek, delivered free to every house. The news is focused on court (“Everyone wants to know about the bad guys”), the council (“How is our money being spent?”) and local sport. “Conversely,” Denholm says, “Fairfax has unwound those things. They took out all their local content and got rid of their local sports reporters.” Reporters on the Times-Age attend every council meeting. “We believe it is the business of newspapers and in the interests of the community we service.”
Denholm is also out of sync with the current thinking that digital comes first. “Digital comes last here, unless it’s breaking news. Stories first appear in the paper and in three days they might go up online. Why would I want to put content online free?” He has no interest in migrating any advertising to the internet, and is critical of media companies’ belated moves to introduce online paywalls. “The horse has bolted. The guy who made the decision to put news on the internet free should be shot.”
The big new proposed international rugby competition has been binned, and for NZ Rugby that’s bad news. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Gregor Paul has thoroughly unpacked what that might mean for the organisation’s balance sheet over the next decade, as the 10 team tournament would have greatly bolstered revenues. There also aren’t an awful lot of future avenues NZ Rugby can look too – sponsorships have been stacked up to ridiculous levels, and there’s very little spare space in the calendar for more tests. There is also a lot of complexity to be navigated over the upcoming sales of TV rights. All in all, it’s a worrying picture for the biggest game in town.
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And in the cricket, the Black Caps are all but assured of making it to the semi-finals now after an emotional and dramatic win over the West Indies. We had genuine offspinner Mark Craig on The Offspin podcast to talk about the game and how cruel cricket can be, with the West Indian dreams being crushed by the result. As well as that, Don Rowe has been keeping tabs on the TAB, who are seriously cashing in on the World Cup.
From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.
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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.