Labour Responds

Labour Responds

Why is the Government exposing migrants to exploitation: Andrew Little

We have an issue in New Zealand right now about immigration. Debates about immigration can easily turn into ones about race, religion and culture. That’s wrong and people who do that are rightly labelled racist or xenophobic. But we have to be able to have a sensible debate about how to respond to a rapidly growing population in a country that is struggling to keep up. We need to talk about how our immigration system works best for New Zealand and for the people who choose to work and settle here. Look at what the Ministry for Business and Employment, the Treasury, the Reserve Bank, the ANZ and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce are saying. They all say we need to take a fresh look at our immigration because serious problems are emerging on housing and wages.

New Zealand is a migrant nation. We are all either migrants ourselves or the descendants of migrants. This is what makes us richly and proudly diverse. New Zealand has always relied on immigration to supply the skills we need to grow our economy – skills we cannot quickly supply from within the New Zealand-born population. Immigration works well when it is focussed on bringing in skills we need. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that our immigration system is straying away from this best practice. The Government’s own officials have warned that work visas are increasingly being issued for occupations that are not high skill and are poorly paid. This often leads to new migrants being put in positions where they are vulnerable to exploitation, unable to make use of their skills and struggle to make ends meet.

Why is the Government exposing migrants to exploitation? There appears to be two reasons: First, oversupplying the labour market keeps wages down. Rather than requiring employers to respond to labour shortages by offering better pay and working conditions, the Government is happy to bring in more people to compete for available jobs, allowing employers to pay their workers less. Second, the only thing that is keeping our economy growing is population growth. GDP growth per person in New Zealand is just 0.5% so if our population wasn’t growing at the fastest rate ever, our economy wouldn’t be growing at all. The Government doesn’t want to admit that so it keeps net migration rates high.

We do need a sensible debate about immigration. The Government so far has refused to engage in that debate. That’s a risky approach because it creates the space for those who would turn this into a debate about race to thrive. Labour doesn’t want to see that happen. We want New Zealand to be a place that continues to welcome new migrants to a land of real opportunity, not exploitation and disappointment, and that celebrates diversity. To make sure that happens, we must address the concerns people have and we must make sure that the immigration system works well for New Zealand and creates the best opportunities for new migrants to settle here well.

- by Andrew Little, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition


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