Exploited workers 'need to know where to go' - councillor

Breakfast 18/12/2018
Photo: Getty.

A councillor is calling for a strengthened Labour Inspectorate following a human trafficking and slavery operation that has been ongoing since the 1990s.

Viliamu Samu, a 64-year-old Samoan national, was charged with 18 counts of human trafficking and slavery on Monday.

The joint investigation by Immigration NZ and NZ Police has alleged that Samu recruited Samoan nationals with the promise of well-paid jobs in the horticultural industry.

"This type of exploitation is unacceptable," said Josephine Bartley, Councillor for Maungakiekie Tamaki. "And there are so many that will be affected by this."

The victims allege they weren't paid for their work, had their passports confiscated and were threatened and physically assaulted.

Ms Bartley said the alleged crimes illustrate the extent of human trafficking in New Zealand. "I do think it's more common than we know," she said.

Indeed, New Zealand saw its first human trafficking conviction in 2016 with a man found guilty of helping 15 Fijian workers enter New Zealand illegally and paying them less than minimum wage.

In 2017, the Labour Inspectorate found that last least half of Bay of Plenty kiwifruit contractors who had been audited or investigated failed to provide employment contracts or pay minimum wage.

"It's just indicative of the employment situation out there. It is an unfair playing field," Ms Bartley said.

Ms Bartley suggests expanding the Labour Inspectorate to work with specific communities that could be at risk for exploitation.

A 24/7 hotline has also been suggested to be set up in order to help workers call the whistle on exploitive employers.

Anyone who is being made to work in New Zealand under illegal conditions, such as being paid less than minimum wage or having work excessive hours, is urged to contact INZ or the Labour Inspectorate.

They can also call CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.