Tackling Pacific worker exploitation

posted: 6:00 pm - 2nd June 2019
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(Picture caption: New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr. Karanina Sumeo opened the Preventing Pacific Worker Exploitation in New Zealand fono held in Auckland. Photo: Stuff.co.nz) 

Worker exploitation and human trafficking for Pacific workers in New Zealand were among issues tackled at a fono, hosted by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP). 

The Preventing Pacific Worker Exploitation in New Zealand fono was staged in response to the high number of Pacific migrant workers working in Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Schemes and the increasing number of Pacific Peoples being victims of human trafficking and worker exploitation in New Zealand. 

New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr. Karanina Sumeo opened the fono, held at MPP’s Auckland office in Manukau. 

Dr Sumeo says migrant worker exploitation and human trafficking are human rights issues requiring urgent collective action.

“Pacific workers are valuable to the New Zealand economy, but their vulnerabilities need to be recognised and addressed,” she says.

“Recruitment agencies and employers must ensure that ethical procurement and hiring practices are embedded within their policies and workplaces to protect workers and prevent human rights abuses in their supply chain.”

The one-day workshop attracted Pacific peoples, industry representatives that employ seasonal workers and all those interested in improving the working conditions for Pacific migrant workers in New Zealand. 

It included a presentation by Katie Knowles, the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation (MBIE) Programme Manager, Trafficking in Persons. 

Katie provided an overview of human trafficking in New Zealand involving Pacific Workers and the New Zealand Government’s response.   

Common themes in the human trafficking of Pacific peoples in the Pacific region were explored by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Regional Representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Amy Sinclair; while MBIE Senior Advisor for Immigration New Zealand, Pacifica Labour and Skills Michael Jones spoke about human rights challenges and risks in the RSE Scheme. 

Finally, New Zealand Apple and Pears Manager of Trade Strategy and Policy, Gary Jones along with Craig Whitcombe from Ask Your Team provided an employer’s and industry perspective to the issue. 

Together, presenters and attendees discussed what a co-ordinated response to address worker exploitation and human trafficking for Pacific workers look like. 

Participants shared experiences of a coordinated approach across all sectors – community, public, government and Pacific nations. 

It was suggested changes in legislation and polices to better address exploitation and human trafficking could be implemented. 

One outcome of the fono was the suggestion New Zealand’s business models should be reviewed in terms of recruitment of Pacific migrants and what support systems available to them. 

The need for pre-departure information should be clearer for those people leaving their home country. 

Another issue addressed was how there could be better access to help and inform Pacific workers who may be facing exploitation. 

The group consensus agreed there needed to be more resourcing of community groups and organisations, which pick up the pieces in terms of supporting Pacific migrants. 

Visit HERE to read about migrant worker rights in New Zealand.