Government's migrant protection laws dismissed as 'soft'

Employers caught exploiting migrants will soon lose their ability to recruit international workers, after the Immigration Minister announced new rules.

But those who represent migrants say the Government lacks adequate resources to handle the issue - and the Minister's planned crackdown does not go far enough.

One woman says she was exploited by her previous boss at the now defunct school IANZ - underpaid and told to work without a contract.

So from April, if they get busted, they'll be banned from hiring more migrant workers for a period of between six months to two years.

"If you have been subject to an employment law breach, you just don't get access to the international labour market," says Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

But the Auckland University Business School's Dr Christina Stringer, who's done research on exploitation, says many migrants often feel beholden to their employer for visa purposes.

"We are talking about a segment of the population that is very vulnerable and so they're unlikely to speak up or out against their employer," she says.

"There's complex layers of exploitation that this initiative perhaps won't address."

MBIE's exploitation line receives on average between two and three people calling per day alleging migrant exploitation, and Community First National Organiser, Dennis Maga, says the Government should have taken a harder line.

"The minimum suspension period should be two [years] and the maximum should be permanently banning these employers to employ foreign workers - and it's the other way around and the Government actually chose the soft approach," he says.

"Suspension for six months and maximum for two years. So what is the message here? That is nothing compared to what employers have been doing for many years. I don't think employers will be scared."

The Migrant Workers Association says migrants lack adequate protection if they choose to blow the whistle.

It also questions whether MBIE has enough resources to investigate every complaint in a timely and thorough manner.