Report finds alarming levels of worker exploitation in NZ

Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere says the report shows slavery is right in our backyards (Getty / file)
Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere says the report shows slavery is right in our backyards (Getty / file)

Migrant workers in New Zealand are being paid as little as $4 an hour, a new report into worker exploitation has found.

The conditions amount to "modern-day slavery" according to the Human Trafficking Research Coalition, which commissioned the report.

Exploitation was found to be rife across various industries including construction, hospitality, horticulture and dairy.

The research was conducted by the University of Auckland's Dr Christina Stringer, who says it's not just a "serious human rights issue" but is also putting our country's international reputation at risk.

After interviewing 105 people over two years, many of them migrants on temporary work visas, the researchers found some were being forced to work up to 90-hour weeks and were severely underpaid.

"This research uncovers widespread abuse that's normally hidden," Dr Stringer says.

"These workers' contribution to our economy must be valued, and the vulnerable among them must be properly protected."

The forms of exploitation most commonly reported were:

Some workers in cosmetic services and providing therapeutic massages were found to have been expected to provide sexual services - something which is illegal for non-citizens and non-residents.

A number of the migrant workers said they felt like they couldn't complain, and were trapped because they were reliant on their employers for their work visas.

"I feel like they own me because of visas," one said.

One man changed jobs because he was promised residency by his new employer.

"He ended up working 80 hours or more a week, often with no pay, but with the promise of help getting a visa," the report says.

"Eight months later he was told by his employer that his visa was not going to be extended."

Stand Against Slavery is part of the Human Trafficking Research Coalition, and chief executive Peter Mihaere says the report is proof slavery is right in our backyards - not just overseas.

"For our economy and international reputation's sake - and the sake of all the vulnerable people caught up in this - we need to act now," he says.

Mr Mihaere says this report is just the beginning.

"We need to work together, carry out more in-depth research and put in place solutions needed for New Zealand to be exploitation- and slavery-free."

Workers said they struggled to get help from authorities, with one saying "they always trust the employer".

"I went to IRD, I went to Labour Department, I went to Immigration, everywhere, to complain against these guys ... but no one is doing anything," another said.

"No one wants to listen to me."

A number of recommendations have been made to Government with the report's release, including setting up a human trafficking office and reviewing current laws and legislation.