New migrant group aims to prevent exploitation

Jaswinder Singh and Harpreet Singh, two religious workers from India. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen.

A founding member of a new migrants’ service organisation is calling for workers to speak up if they're treated unfairly and for employers to stop exploitation.

Migrants United Council, a non-profit entity that launched earlier this month, aims to empower migrant workers with awareness campaigns, consultation and workshops.

Its secretary general Uttam Sharma says migrant workers often don't speak good English and are not familiar with New Zealand systems, so it can be hard for them to stand up for their rights.

"I can assure the victims, if they're listening to me, there's a very good working system in New Zealand where no exploitation of any kind is tolerated.”

Uttam had been the support person for two Indian religious workers who had been exploited by a former employer and won a case at the employment court last year.

Harpreet Singh and Jaswinder Singh came to work as Raagi Jatha, a role similar to a temple priest or preacher but involving singing, playing instruments and reciting religious hymns, at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Papatoetoe, South Auckland in late 2017.

For half a year's work, Harpreet Singh was paid only $2000 in cash and Jaswinder Singh $1000.

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered the temple to pay Harpreet Singh over $32,000 and Jaswinder over $34,000 for lost wages and holiday pay, and compensation for humiliation and loss of dignity.

It must also pay a $40,000 penalty for breaching employment laws.

The temple appealed the decision but withdrew the challenge, and discontinued the proceedings in August this year, just before the hearing.

Harpreet Singh and Jaswinder Singh says they were happy about the result, but it was a hard period of time after they left work at the temple in May last year, before finding new jobs at a temple in Tauranga a few months later.

They told RNZ through Uttam’s translation that with little money, they stayed at houses of different devotees from the Sikh community and relied on the community for food and daily necessities.

They also faced pressure from their home country, as they borrowed money to come to New Zealand.

"It's our religious belief that nobody should keep someone's hard-earned money... Whoever is exploiting should mend their ways to stop exploitation," Jaswinder Singh says.

"We got justice from New Zealand government. We got support from the Sikh community. We want to appeal to who are exploited to come forward," Harpreet Singh says.

Uttam says migrant workers can fall victim to hidden fees charged by service providers but his team will involve experts on different subjects to provide services for free.

He also says employees should also have good work ethics and not exploit their boss.

"I think all kinds of exploitation must come to stop, there's a good system and there's accountability all over the place in the system," he says, adding that racism and discrimination are also not to be tolerated.

Uttam says they'll also support migrant business owners, other social groups and older people to navigate New Zealand systems.

-Liu Chen/RNZ

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Posted on 04-11-2020 12:48 | By morepork

There are ratbags in ALL races. It isn’t about us targeting races, it is about making sure that our position on worker exploitation is very clear, without fear or favor. In this country we will ensure that a fair day’s work receives a fair day’s pay and that workers will NOT be exploited. ANYONE who breaks that will receive the penalty of the Law, and I agree with you that deportation could be part of that penalty. But it has nothing to do with Ethnicity.

Jail time then deportation

Posted on 03-11-2020 07:27 | By Johnney

It would appear many cases of nationalities abusing their own. The abusers would have been once immigrants themselves. We shouldn’t tolerate these abusers. Once caught, they should serve a sentence and deported back to where they came from. Australia has no problem deporting offending Kiwi’s back to NZ.

Beware your own

Posted on 02-11-2020 11:34 | By

In the vast majority of migrant exploitation cases the nationalities of the exploited and exploiters are the same. It speaks volumes about the darker side of human nature; especially those from third world countries which are generally from where these people hail. This brings us to the big immigration debate and whether we are targeting the right kind of people to join our little Nirvana at the bottom of the world. Speaks volumes about