NZ's most vulnerable workers

NZ's most vulnerable workers

A 3D investigation has discovered the organised, premeditated exploitation of foreign workers is rife, especially in the restaurant industry, where takeaway workers can be earning less than $4 an hour.

A contract signed by a pair in the Philippines offered a payment of $17.50 an hour, including accommodation. On arrival, the pair says they were asked to sign a new probationary contract, and for the first two months, working 70-hour weeks, they didn't receive anything.

After that, they say they were paid $250 a week, which would amount to a measly $3.57 an hour.

"I don't actually call this exploitation; I think this is slavery," says Dennis Maga of First Union in Auckland. He says not only were the men underpaid, but their passports were taken on arrival.

"It is actually full control because the employer was holding the passport. It also discouraged the two to contact someone else or work somewhere else."

On top of that they say they've worked punishing hours, with only one day off every two weeks. Even on the one day they have off, they were told to keep their employer informed of their movements.

"It's a problem we're increasingly trying to address across Government," says Immigration New Zealand general manager Peter Devoy.

"There are complaints coming to us on a daily basis in a whole variety of situations."

One of hundreds of investigations currently underway relates to an Auckland restaurant, which embarrassingly the then-Immigration Minister opened in 2011. The allegations have all the ingredients of modern-day slavery. Most shockingly, workers were said to have been kept locked up while not at work.

"Just keeping them locked up in a garage or facility for a period of time so that they can't move – they are restricted in their movement in New Zealand," says Mr Devoy.

The workers in the case 3D highlighted say they too were restricted in their movements.

In a bizarre explanation, Rosanna Imai, the men's employer, says one reason for keeping their passports, and at one stage not paying them at all, was because she was on holiday. After more promises the men will be paid, their passports were finally handed back.

Despite such an experience, the men have not been put off New Zealand, and for the first time in four months, they're taking in some sights around Auckland. The plan now is to put it all behind them.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment encourages anyone in this situation, or who knows of anyone in this situation, to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20 where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment. It can arrange an interpreter to assist with your call. You can call during business hours (8:30am - 5pm Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays).

People can also provide information anonymously via Crimestoppers.

Watch the video for the full 3D report.