Migrant employers face ban on hiring for breaking law

Employers of migrant workers are on notice under new legislation saying if they break employment law they'll be barred from hiring international help for up to two years.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the policy on Thursday. It will come into force from April 1.

The Human Rights Commission is praising the move, but says it hopes new rules are just the start.

The new legislation could lead to employers being banned from hiring migrant workers from between six months and two years.

It is aimed at the "minor end" of employment law breaches such as not having the right documentation and paying below the minimum wage.

Mr Woodhouse had a message for those who flout the law.

"What I'm saying is don't even bother applying [for more migrant workers].

"If you have been subject to an employment law breach you just don't get access to the international labour market. That's a privilege and if you abuse the privilege you lose it," he told the AM Show.

He said the new legislation would be more about prevention, rather than prosecution.

According to Mr Woodhouse there are around 150 employers who would be affected by the new law, employing several hundred workers in total.

"I want to see fewer than that, and I think this will help."

A number of industries are particularly reliant on migrant workers including hospitality, aged care, horticulture, viticulture and farming.

But Mr Woodhouse says that doesn't mean they're the worst offenders in the country.

While the legislation targets the "minor" employment law offending, Mr Woodhouse says the country's first conviction for trafficking in 2016 should also have sent a strong message to employers.

Last year, Faroz Ali was found guilty of 15 charges of people trafficking and 16 charges for helping people illegally get into, or stay in, the country.

The charges related to Fijian workers working illegally in New Zealand, who were subjected to exploitative conditions on farms in the Bay of Plenty between 2013 and 2015.

Ali was jailed for nine years and six months.

"I'm really hoping that sends a signal this sort of stuff is not acceptable in New Zealand," said Mr Woodhouse. "We want to treat people fairly and certainly anyone coming from overseas have the same rights."

He believed smaller breaches of the law lead to these kinds of "worst practices".

"We need to nip it in the bud early and that's what this policy will do."

At the time Mr Woodhouse said while exploitation in any quantity was a serious concern, he didn't believe it to be widespread or pervasive.

Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue is welcoming the move, saying there is an urgent need for systems to better monitor and deal with exploitation.

"Penalising those employers who show disregard for our employment and immigration laws is a positive first step," she said.

"It sends a strong message."

But migrant exploitation was a complex issue that required a multi-faceted response, Dr Blue said.

"We are keen to see that these new measures are just the start of actions aimed at addressing what is a significant problem, particularly in our dairy, horticultural, hospitality and international education industries."

The Unite union holds similar views, saying it is a "very small step, given the scale of the migrant labour exploitation that exists in New Zealand".

National director Mike Treen believes the ban "seems like a slap on the wrist" particularly given the "outrages" exposed over the past few years.

He says if the Government was serious about tackling the problem, they'd increase the number of labour inspectors "five- to ten-fold" from the current number of around 40.

A report released the same week as Ali's sentencing found migrant worker exploitation was widespread in some industries in New Zealand, and some were working up to 18-hour shifts without a break, while being paid as little as $4 an hour.

NZN / Newshub.