Within months of arriving in New Zealand, Mandeep Bela was being exploited by his employer.
No contract, no regular payday and unaware of his leave entitlements, it wasn’t until Mandeep got a job in a supermarket that he realised what rights he had as an employee in New Zealand.
The supermarket was unionised and there were opportunities to improve working conditions for himself and his colleagues.
“Upon understanding the value of union in a workplace, I joined the union and later became a union delegate. After understanding my rights and the legislation, I had an opportunity to support others.”
Starting out as an organiser at FIRST Union and now at the PSA, Mandeep’s focus is on advocating for migrant workers to protect their rights and welfare through the Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG).
UNEMIG was founded in 2012 by migrant workers for migrant workers who have their rights eroded or exploited by their employers.
There are thousands of migrant workers like Mandeep in New Zealand, who have been subjected to exploitation, through underpayment or withholding of wages, physical or verbal abuse, discrimination, or sexual exploitation.
Many are affected by the unfolding Covid-19 situation. There are migrant workers, who normally live and work in New Zealand, who cannot return until border restrictions are lifted.
Milan, 33, is currently on an open work visa with a permanent role as a business sales consultant.
He was visiting family in India when New Zealand’s borders closed. For the first month of lockdown, Milan was able to work remotely, but is now taking unpaid leave in hope his job will be kept open for him.
However, even with a supportive employer, Milan’s future employment and visa hangs in the balance as he does not know when he will be able to return.
Whilst UNEMIG has played an instrumental role in advocating for Milan during the pandemic, it is not the first time he has received their support. Like Mandeep, Milan was exploited in his first place of work in New Zealand whilst on a student visa.
“My employer didn’t pay my wages or let me know about my rights. I didn’t have a contract.”
Fortunately Milan was able to get the wages he was owed and some compensation. Through this process he learnt about his rights as an employee in New Zealand.
Sam (not her real name) was sponsored to stay in New Zealand by her employer. But when her skilled visa was approved, everything changed.
Sam was told by her employer that a condition of her visa was she would only be able to work for him and that she had to have sex with him. He used his position to control her.
As a migrant worker, unaware of her rights, and hoping to build a new life for herself in New Zealand, she went along with his plans, believing she had no other choice.
Sam often worked 7 days a week, and most of the time she worked 10 to 12 hour days. Sam found it difficult to get leave and when she fell sick, her employer gradually reduced her hours until there was no work left.
Fearful she would lose her visa, she relied on the advocacy of UNEMIG to get through.
Mandeep helped Sam to recover wages owed and compensation. She is now a restaurant manager and feels confident in knowing her rights and where to find support in the future.
Sam and Milan are grateful for the assistance of Mandeep and UNEMIG. “They really help us. Even without asking for money, they are there,” Sam reflects.
Advocacy through UNEMIG is available to any union member and is included in your union membership.
While UNEMIG comes under the umbrella of FIRST Union, any migrant worker can access support. Non-union members can join for $2.70 per week.
Organisers who support workers through UNEMIG are of migrant background and understand the multitude of issues migrant workers face.
UNEMIG expresses sincere gratitude for the financial contribution the PSA has made to support its work.
During lockdown and the global pandemic, UNEMIG has been campaigning for migrant workers to be able to access welfare under s64 of the Social Security Act 2018.
Some migrant workers who have lost jobs have no source of income at all.
Without support they could be exploited by employers or fall into unlawful work situations to make ends meet. They may be unable to return home if borders in their home countries are still in lockdown.
To find the campaign petition go to www.change.org and search for UNEMIG.