Migration abuse inquiry on its way; Why social investment won't work; Oats instead of dairy in Southland


Indian students in Aotea Square in Auckland. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

In this morning's email we detailed the Government's planned inquiry into abuse of both migrant workers and international students.

1. A migrant abuse inquiry

Without much fanfare, the Government is planning an inquiry into migrant abuse that will cover both temporary migrants and international students.

The inquiry was included in the ethnic communities section of Labour's manifesto and was not mentioned in its coalition agreement with New Zealand First or it support agreement with the Greens.

Labour has not talked prominently about it since then, but it did surface briefly in a parliamentary question last week.

The low profile can be explained by the lack of easy solutions. The possible fixes could force Labour to make some economically uncomfortable choices for the international education industry and many small businesses.

Migrants, unions and migration lawyers cite cases where indebted students and workers on temporary visas are paid less than the minimum wage, work long hours, get no holiday or sick leave or even have to pay their employers for a job in the hope the employer will help them get permanent residency. Employers often threaten to withdraw the job or documentation for residency applications.

Immigration and Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told Parliament this week that the Government would soon initiate an inquiry into migrant exploitation.

Lees-Galloway told me MBIE was preparing the policy work on how to proceed with the inquiry and he expected to receive it shortly. Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa is handling the details of the inquiry.

"This is a high priority for this government and the details of the form, terms of reference and timing of this work are to be decided," Salesa said.

Lees-Galloway said it would look more widely than just migrant exploitation in the workplace.

"Jenny often cites situations where people were being charged astonishingly high rent for what most of us would consider overcrowded situations for their rent," he said.

Employment lawyer Alastair McClymont explained to me the role of international education in the abuse.

"They've got to look at the intrinsic connections between study and work and they've got to look at the particular vulnerabilities of students who have indebted themselves to come here. And you've got to look at what Education New Zealand are doing when they're marketing education overseas, and what they're basically promising people before they come," he said.

McClymont gave the example of Indian students who came to do a level 5 or 6 business diploma.

"They have one year on an open work visa to get a job. They know that they can achieve a resident's visa by getting a job as a manager of a liquor store and therefore they're a retail manager," he said.

"They'll come across a liquor store owner, who'll say I'll support you for your two year work visa and residency. Then all that person needs to do is to apply for residency on the basis of this job offer as a liquor store manager. That requires a high level of cooperation from the employer in terms of providing the correct job description, the correct salary and providing the verification information to Immigration NZ, which enables residency to be approved, and the employer can then, at will, demand whatever they like.

"'You work for 70 hours. You work for $5 an hour. You pay me $40k for the privilege of this job. If this person complains, they will lose their visa, and then they'll be deported back to India."

Here's my full report, which was published first on Newsroom Pro late on Friday.

2. Where to now for social investment?

Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan has been taking a closer look at what happens to Bill English's legacy - social investment.

Thomas interviewed English before his resignation last week, and shortly after English's announcement, he talked to Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni.

She's not throwing it out, but she'd prefer to rebuild the social safety net rather than just targeting those who might fall through.

Thomas' full report was published here on Newsroom Pro on Friday afternoon.

Self-described policy wonk, Jess Berentson-Shaw has also been thinking about the future of social investment in the wake of Bill English's departure from politics.

She argues English's social investment idea didn't work because it was too narrow, paternalistic and complex for already-stressed people to deal with.

See Jess' piece here this morning on Newsroom.

3. Oats instead of dairy?

Reporter Baz Macdonald has been looking at Venture Southland's hopes to offer dairy farmers an alternative that taps into surging Asian demand, but uses less capital and water and produces less nitrates and greenhouse gas emissions.

Venture Southland has built a business plan to export an oat-based health beverage to the Asia/Pacific market and sees cash returns of in the range of $2,250 to $2,500 per hectare. That would be in line with the cash returns from dairy.

The key for farmers will be whether it generates the same tax-free gains on capital gains from land.

See Baz's full piece published on Newsroom this morning.

4. Briefly in our political economy...

Creche for Cabinet? - Green MP Julie Anne Genter, who is the Minister for Women and the associate minister of transport and health, announced on Sunday she was pregnant with her partner Peter Nunns. She is due in August and said she expected to take three months leave from Parliament, although she would resume some of her ministerial duties after six weeks. Nunns, an economist in Auckland, will also be a stay-at-home dad. Nunns wrote the report for the Auckland Mayoral Housing Taskforce and was a regular contributor to TransportBlog (now renamed Greater Auckland) until January.

The bounce-back - The BusinessNZ-BNZ survey of the manufacturing sector slumped in December, suggesting the fall in wider business confidence might have had an effect on the real economy. But the PMI survey for January released on Friday showed it bounced back 4.5 points to 55.6 points in January from December. Any reading above 50 is seen as the sector expanding.

5. Briefly in the global political economy...

'Laughing their asses off' - Donald Trump hit back this morning at FBI moves to indict over a dozen Russians for interfering in US elections, saying the Democrats let the Russians interfere and the issue was distracting the FBI from following up tip-offs on mass murderers. He tweeted this this morning: "If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!" Sigh.

Trade wars - China announced overnight that tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that the US proposed over the weekend were groundless and that it reserved the right to retaliate. (Bloomberg).

6. Coming up...

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to hold her weekly post-cabinet news conference at 3 pm today (note the slightly earlier time than the normal 4 pm).

Later today, Steven Joyce and Mark Mitchell are expected to declare their hands in National's leadership contest, which Simon Bridges, Judith Collins and Amy Adams have already thrown their hats in the ring for.

Joyce is not as popular in caucus as some and is seen as integral to the old guard that some want to remove with generational change. Mitchell is seen as popular in caucus and more able to connect with a broader swathe of New Zealanders, but has a lower public profile than Bridges and Collins. However, he could sneak through the middle if support for the losing candidates coalesces behind him.

TVNZ is due to broadcast its latest poll result tonight at 6 pm tonight. The poll was taken last week, including a few days after the resignation of Bill English and the beginning of the National's leadership contest.

Ardern is scheduled to do her weekly round of television and radio interviews on Tuesday morning, including with Newshub's Duncan Garner, NewstalkZB's Mike Hosking and Radio New Zealand (either Guyon Espiner or Susie Ferguson). She also does a regular interview with Auckland student station BFM.

Previous Prime Ministers Key and English were in the habit of doing the same series of radio and television interviews (BFM excepted) on a Monday morning. But Ardern said she had changed to a Tuesday, given many decisions were made in cabinet meetings during Mondays.

Parliament resumes sitting on Tuesday for the second week in a three week block. Here's the provisional order paper.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to release official productivity statistics for 1978 to 2017 on Thursday at 10.45 am. Usually these statistics would pass without much comment, but the focus on productivity in last couple of years and during the election campaign has made them more interesting.

Statistics New Zealand is scheduled to release its retail trade survey for the December quarter on Friday at 10.45 am. This is one of the first major components of GDP figures. Initial card transactions and Paymark figures suggest solid consumer spending during the quarter, despite a slump in wider business confidence around the election.

7. One fun thing...

Judith Collins is no shrinking violet and rarely passes up an opportunity to comment on the news of the day.

Hence her twitter comment over the weekend: "Miracles happen but I’m pretty certain that one’s not on the board."

8. This morning's political links

These are available in the morning subscriber email.